The European Court of Human Rights has been hearing a complaint that Britain violated the rights of two 10-year-old boys jailed for the murder of two-year-old Jamie Bulger in 1993. Lawyers for the boys claimed they did not receive a fair trial or a fair sentence. Jamie Bulger's mother attended the hearing. Denise Fergus said it was important for her son to be represented.

The case was one of the most sensational in British legal history. Two-year-old Jamie Bulger was kidnapped on February 12th in 1993, while on a shopping trip with his mother. His battered body was found beside a railway line two days later. Images from a security camera led Merseyside police to arrest two boys for his murder. Robert Thompson and John Venables were aged 10 years and 6 months when they were charged with the murder.

The two were the youngest people charged with murder in Britain this century. Their trial at Preston Crown Court was held under adult rules, not those usually governing juvenile cases. That meant a trial in public, with none of the restrictions usual in juvenile cases. In a hearing behind closed doors at the European Court of Human Rights today, the boys’ lawyers argued that Thompson and Venables did not get a fair trial. They also claimed that their rights are infringed because it is the British Home Secretary, and not a judge, who decides how long they will stay in custody.

The court made legal history by agreeing for the first time to listen to the victim’s side of the story. Lawyers representing Jamie Bulger’s parents made submissions. Jamie’s mother made a short statement after the hearing. Judgement in this case is not expected for several months. The court cannot order the release of Thompson and Venables, but if it finds in their favour it is expected that the British Home Secretary, Jack Straw, will revise downwards the amount of time the boys have to spend in custody.