Bulger's killers did not get fair trial


The British government faces the prospect of a major rethink of the role of the Home Secretary in the sentencing of convicted juveniles and the treatment of juveniles in court, following yesterday's ruling by the European Commission of Human Rights that Jamie Bulger's murderers did not receive a fair trial, Rachel Donnelly reports.

Lawyers representing Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who were both 10 years old when they murdered the two-year-old in Liverpool in 1993, have won the right to challenge the fairness of their trial and their sentences in the European Court of Human Rights.

The case will go forward on the grounds that they were prevented from fully participating in their trial in an adult court and that the role of the Home Secretary in sentencing - in this case the former Tory home secretary, Mr Michael Howard - contravened Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The mother of Jamie Bulger, Mrs Denise Fergus, reacted with disgust to the ruling, saying: "I'll fight all the way. I'll fight until the day I die if I have to." Earlier her solicitor, Mr Sean Sexton, said she wanted to be left in peace.

Mr Rex Makin, who acted for Jamie's father, Mr Ralph Bulger, said the ruling was another "turn of the knife in the wound" for Jamie's parents. He also accused Mr Howard of fuelling the "fire of public indignation" when he increased the boys' minimum sentence to 15 years. The law lords ruled last year that Mr Howard had acted illegally when he raised the minimum sentence from 10 to 15 years.

The Commission accepted that the 1993 trial of Venables and Thompson, now 16 years old, was "a severely intimidating procedure", but it rejected claims that the trial at Preston Crown Court amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment and therefore breached the ECHR.

The commission ruled, by 14 votes to five, however, that the trial proceedings did violate Article 6 of the ECHR, which guarantees the right to a fair trial.