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Thursday, 16 December, 1999, 09:41 GMT
Child trials thrown into question

Venables and Thompson are now 17 Venables and Thompson are now 17


Practices for trying children have been thrown into question following a European court ruling that James Bulger's killers did not receive a fair trial.

Child law expert Allan Levy, QC, says the UK Government will have to take a "long hard look" at the current justice system in the wake of the decision.

Mr Levy said in theory the ruling meant that the two boys jailed for the killing could ask for a re-trial.

However, it is more likely the decision will be used to help them determine a favourable release date, he said.

Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, both now 17, were awarded costs following the ruling, which also adjudged the setting of their jail sentences to have been unfair.

Ruled unlawful

James Bulger's mother Denise Fergus has always maintained both her son's killers should spend their lives in jail.

Former Home Secretary Michael Howard increased the original sentence recommended by the trial judge from eight years to 15 years.

The 15-year tariff set by Mr Howard had already been ruled unlawful by the House of Lords in a ruling in 1997, on the grounds that inflexible sentences should not be passed on under-18s.

Current Home Secretary Jack Straw is due to lay down a new tariff but has held off doing so until after Thursday's ruling.

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See also:
16 Dec 99 |  UK
Bulger killers' trial ruled unfair

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