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Toddler killers' sentence review due
LONDON, England -- The killers of British toddler James Bulger are to learn on Thursday how long they will serve for a murder that shocked the nation.
Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, is to set the term for Jon Venables and Robert Thompson in open court, court officials announced on Monday.
Venables and Thompson were aged 10 in 1993 when they were convicted of killing the Merseyside toddler.
Video footage from a Bootle shopping centre showed the pair luring James from his mother before they took him away and battered him to death.
They were sentenced to an undetermined prison term with a minimum 10 years to serve.
The then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, extended this to 15 years, but this decision was overturned by the House of Lords, which set no minimum term.
Lord Woolf was given the task of reviewing the pairs' minimum sentence after the European Court of Human Rights ruled last year that the fixing of tariffs for juvenile killers by the Home Secretary was a breach of the European Human Rights Convention and only a court could decide.
On Wednesday, Howard said he feared the pair could be freed in as little as four months.
He told BBC radio that recent comments by Lord Woolf led him to believe that the judge was planning to take a lenient line and release Venables and Thompson, now 18 in the new year.
"He said above all he wanted to try to achieve a sentence which would make the likelihood of a person leading a lawful life in the future greater and not less," said Howard.
"That is a perfectly laudable aim, but I don't think it should be the primary consideration. It seems to me to indicate a return to the approach to the criminal justice system in which we put the criminal first, not the victim or potential victims."
The Chief Inspector of Prisons Sir Davis Ramsbotham sparked outrage in October last year when he spoke of the "considerable admiration" he had for the way Thompson had responded to his punishment and said he would not like to see him sent to prison.
The pair have been held in different secure units but would be transferred to the prison system if still in jail at 19.
James' mother Denise was inside a butcher's shop when she let go of the toddler's hand to purchase some meat and he wandered off.
Thirty-eight people spotted the pair -- with some seeking to intervene -- as they walked with the crying toddler to the isolated railway line where his battered body was later found.
Because of the severity of their crimes Thompson and Venables were tried in an adult court - with some special measures in recognition of their youth such as a raised dock and shorter hearing hours.
But the European Commission of Human Rights ruled that the boys were unfairly treated as the proceedings were "severely intimidatory."
Reuters contributed to this report.
European Court of Human Rights Home Page
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