Whole-Life Sentences: A Death Sentence?

A couple of days ago, it was announced that Jeremy Bamber and two other convicted murderers lost their appeal to the Court of Human Rights concerning the ethics of a whole-life sentence. Their appeal was based on the idea that judges were essentially sentencing them to death by “old age or infirmity.”

EU Court of Human Rights. By CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Although I agree with the decision to ensure these murderers are kept off the streets, Bamber – who shot his adopted parents, sister and her two six-year old sons – does seem to voice an interesting idea. Is there any real point in simply imprisoning criminals until they die? Although I agree that the death penalty is something which we should be very careful about re-introducing, in a very small number of cases it seems like capital punishment is the most humane method of dealing with these criminals.

At the moment there are over 20 criminals serving whole-life terms in the UK; essentially these people will never be outside of a prison again (except in a coffin) so what is the point of keeping them in there? I don’t believe that there is much difference between whole-life and death sentences other than the latter probably being cheaper. Personally I believe that both would be befitting the nature of the atrocities these people have committed, and I honestly can’t imagine the relatives of the victims being too bothered by the slight difference. As well as that, many people these days seem to have become disillusioned with the idea of jailing someone at all. We see pictures of cells with televisions, radios, posters and three square meals a day for murderers, rapists, thieves and all manner of criminals. No wonder people get uppity.

However, whenever anyone brings up capital punishment people get uncomfortable. Is an “eye for an eye” kind of justice fair? Would it be better punishment for criminals to carry guilt around for the rest of their lives? What about the problems associated with false imprisonment, or prisoners causing harm to prison officers, or even the public, in the event of an escape? I don’t think anyone can truly answer any of these questions properly, but I do think Bamber’s case has brought up a lot of new ethical arguments to do with life imprisonment in comparison to the death penalty. He may think it is inhumane to imprison him for his entire life but then again, he did murder a lot of his family, so what does he know?


About the author

Harry Parkhill

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I am the Editor for the Evans Review. I have previous experience working as a writer and editor for dozens of publications, including The Daily Telegraph, MSN, the Editorial section of (now defunct) LOVEFiLM, Kettle Mag and Journalism-Now Politically right of centre.