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Friday, 16 February, 2001, 17:17 GMT
The Bulger case: What happens now?

Venables (left) and Thompson could be released this summer
The father of murdered toddler Jamie Bulger has lost his High Court bid to prevent the early release of his son's killers.

BBC legal affairs correspondent Jon Silverman explains what the decision means for James Bulger's family and for killers Robert Thompson and Jon Venables.

Is this the end of Ralph Bulger's challenge?

There is a right of appeal. Ralph Bulger's lawyers asked this court, the High Court, for permission to appeal and they were turned down but they can go directly to the Court of Appeal and they intend to do that. It's a question now of whether the Court of Appeal decide to entertain that.

What happens if the appeal is rejected?

If that happens then it becomes a question for the parole board and they will then go ahead and assess the fitness of Thompson and Venables for release.

Will the Bulger family have any influence over the parole board's decision?

We are determined to be able to participate fully in the Parole Board process

Jimmy Bulger, speaking outside the High Court
No, their views are not take into account by the parole board. Their consideration is based upon risk to the public and the progress that Thompson and Venables have made in custody, whether they have been sufficiently rehabilitated to be released. It becomes a purely administrative matter for the parole board if there is no appeal.

However, Ralph's brother Jimmy, speaking outside court today, said: "Whilst it is highly unlikely that we can take the setting of the tariffs for Thompson and Venables any further, we are determined to be able to participate fully in the Parole Board process."

Does this mean that Venables and Thompson will be released soon?

If all goes smoothly then they might expect to be released round about the summer

Legal affairs correspondent Jon Silverman
It does make it likely. Remember that the tariff is simply the minimum period of punishment that has to be completed before someone is eligible for parole. The tariff in their case, seven years and eight months has already expired, it expired in October, which means that the parole board can go ahead and set in motion the process by which they might be freed. They have already held one hearing just to deal with some of the preliminary issues and I think there is no doubt that if there is no appeal against this decision there will be another hearing fairly soon. It will not be the only hearing, there may be another one after that, and if all goes smoothly then they might expect to be released round about the summer.

Why did Ralph Bulger's challenge fail?

The first reason and probably the main reason is that the court decided that Ralph Bulger had no grounds for bringing the challenge in the first place. In legal cases like this, it is not the case that anyone can mount a challenge. But his lawyers argued that because he was asked by the Lord Chief Justice to submit a statement last year about the impact of the crime on him and the family, he was entitled to challenge the tariff, the term of seven years eight months which the Lord Chief Justice set. However, the High Court decided he had no grounds for challenging the tariff, but the court said that this was a matter of such public interest that they decided to go ahead and hear the whole case because they wanted to assess the merits of the argument.

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