Dominic Raab plans new law to stop whole life term prisoners marrying

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Levi BellfieldImage source, PA Media
Image caption,
Levi Bellfield is reported to be seeking permission to get married

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has said he will change the law to stop prisoners serving whole life sentences getting married in jail.

There was "no question" of taxpayers footing the bill for murderer Levi Bellfield's bid to marry, he told LBC.

Bellfield, whose victims include 13-year-old Milly Dowler, is reported to be seeking legal aid to challenge a ruling blocking him from marrying his girlfriend behind bars.

Mr Raab promised to "move quickly".

The justice secretary wants the measure included in a new Victims Bill.

Downing Street said details of the planned legislation would be announced "in due course", calling it "deeply inappropriate" for those serving whole life terms to get married.

"Let me be crystal clear... I don't think it is appropriate and I'm going to change the law. We are committed to that," Mr Raab said.

He said passing a law was never about an individual case, but this was "wrong" and many people would find it "an affront to the basic system of criminal justice".

There was also a question around the risk of a "vulnerable" person marrying an offender as "egregious" as Bellfield, Mr Raab added.

"So on both factors, I'm committed to doing what we can to prevent that taking place."

Any such legislation could face a legal challenge, with the European Convention on Human Rights containing an explicit right to marriage under Article 12.

'Sickened and appalled'

Mr Raab, who is also deputy prime minister, has previously criticised the Human Rights Act for putting "all sorts of obstacles" in the way of blocking Bellfield's marriage.

The Sun has reported that Bellfield has told fellow inmates his legal battle is costing him nothing.

Bellfield, 54, is serving a whole life term for the murder of Milly Dowler who was abducted while walking home from school in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, in 2002.

He had previously been sentenced to a whole life term for the murders of students Marsha McDonnell in 2003 and Amelie Delagrange in 2004, and the attempted murder of another woman.

He is an inmate at HMP Frankland in County Durham.

When it emerged last year that Bellfield had applied to marry an unnamed woman, Downing Street said then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson was "sickened and appalled" by the request, and his thoughts were with the victims' families.

Anyone convicted of murder will be given a life sentence. But the judge will specify the minimum term an offender must spend in jail before becoming eligible to apply for parole.

A whole life order means an offender will never be released from prison, except in exceptional compassionate circumstances.

More than 60 prisoners are thought to be currently subject to such orders.