Chris Halliwell will die behind bars: but are whole life orders legal?

The taxi driver who has been found guilty of murdering Becky Godden has been sentenced to a whole life order, meaning he will spend the rest of his life in custody.

Christopher Halliwell, 52, is already serving a life sentence for the murder of Sian O'Callaghan, who he abducted in a taxi in 2011. When caught for this crime, he confessed to police about killing   Becky.

He later denied her murder, but was this week convicted and sentenced to a whole life order. We take a look at what the order means and whether it is legal under human rights legislation.

What's the difference between a life sentence and a whole life order?

A guard holds handcuffs(Eric Risberg/AP)
(Eric Risberg/AP)

A life sentence is a mandatory minimum amount of jail time for a serious offence, set by a judge. Once this term is up, the offender can go before a parole board, which decides if it is safe to release them back into the community on a 'life licence'.

If a convicted murderer is released, they will be subject to parole conditions for the rest of their life. This mean they will be supervised by probation officers and meet certain conditions on jobs they can do, as well as where they live and travel to.

If they break these conditions, they will be sent back to jail.

A whole life order means exactly that; the offender is sentenced to spend the rest of their life in prison or a secure hospital, without parole. However, these people are eligible to appeal their sentence, and can be released on compassionate grounds.

According to Ministry of Justice figures from June, Halliwell will join the 53 people already serving whole life orders in prisons across the UK. A few more are serving their sentence in secure hospitals.

Are whole life orders rare?

A silhouette of a man against prison bars (Anthony Devlin/PA)
(Anthony Devlin /PA)

Between 2007 and 2012, eight people were murdered by seven offenders on 'life licence' for a previous murder, according to fact-checking charity Full Fact.

Whole life sentences exist to protect the public from those who are considered likely to commit serious crime again.

A number of notorious murderers are currently serving whole life orders, including the "Yorkshire Ripper" Peter Sutcliffe and club bouncer Levi Bellfield, who was handed the term for murdering two young women and trying to murder a third.

Only two women are on the life order list, Rose West who was convicted of multiple murders committed with her husband Fred in 1995 and Joanna Dennehy, who was sentenced in February 2014 for the murder of three men and stabbing of two more.

Are they legal?


Arthur Hutchinson, who murdered three members of the same family in 1983 and raped a woman staying with them brought a case against his whole life sentence to the European Court of Human Rights in 2013. He claimed the sentence breached his human rights by subjecting him to 'inhuman and degrading treatment' caused by no prospect of release.

However, in 2015 the court ruled that as the whole life order contained possibility for release in exceptional circumstances, it did not breach his human rights.

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