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The departure of Abu Qatada for a Jordanian prison, despite the best endeavours of the European human rights court to let him stay in the UK, turns out to have been a short-lived triumph for the Government.Judges in Strasbourg have opened a new front by ruling that Britain is in breach of Article 3 of the European convention on human rights by imprisoning some the worst imaginable killers for whole-life terms. The Grand Chamber of the European Court has ruled in three test cases that their sentences must be reviewed after 25 years.This is not the first time the ECHR has sought to change Britain’s life imprisonment laws. More than 10 years ago, they removed the rights of politicians to decide the tariff for life prisoners – the element of the sentence they must serve before being considered for parole. They are now set by judges working from a template set out in statute introduced by then Home Secretary David Blunkett, who has issued an apoplectic statement about the ruling.The very worst crimes are punishable by whole-life tariffs, many of which were set by past Home Secretaries but have since revisited by the courts to be endorsed.This latest ruling is a step change in the intrusive nature of the Strasbourg court and will encourage those who want to pull out of the convention altogether. Their previous judgments were intended to remove politicians from sentencing and leave it to the judiciary.But some judges have recently handed down whole-life sentences, for instance on Levi Bellfield, who was convicted of murdering Milly Dowler. The most recent murderers to receive the sentence are Mark Bridger, who killed five-year-old April Jones, and Dale Cregan, who murdered two police officers.Furthermore, the High Court in London has recently ruled that whole-life sentences were required following a fair and detailed consideration. The judges said: "The court did not consider that these sentences were grossly disproportionate or amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment. There had therefore been no violation of article 3 (banning inhuman or degrading treatment) in the case of any of the applicants."The European Court is not saying that they should be released but that it is a breach of their human rights never to give them a prospect of freedom. Article 3 outlaws inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.But this is certain to be greeted with fury by the Government which is already talking, if not wholly seriously yet, about leaving the jurisdiction of the Strasbourg Court. Taken together with the court’s insistence that the UK allows prisoners to vote despite Parliament’s equally strong insistence that they should not this is a recipe for a major clash.One of the three life prisoners who took the case to Strasbourg is Jeremy Bamber, jailed for shooting five members of his family dead in Essex in 1986. He has lost several appeals against his conviction, claiming his schizophrenic sister shot the victims before turning the gun on herself at their farmhouse at Tolleshunt D'Arcy. As he has served more than 25 years a review would have to consider his case.All told there are 46 murderers who are serving whole-life tariffs without hope of release in prisons in England and Wales. Others include the moors murderer Ian Brady; the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe and Rosemary West.