The highest court yesterday ruled that mandatory life sentences for murder were 'tenable and rational' and conformed with the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights Ordinance. A panel of five judges in the Court of Final Appeal unanimously upheld the life sentences imposed on illegal immigrants Lau Cheong, 29, and Lau Wong, 31, in December 1998 for murdering air-conditioning technician Kei Wai-heung, 46. The victim was robbed and later found dead, with rope binding his neck, wrists and legs. He died of strangulation. In the written judgment, Mr Justice Roberto Ribeiro said the mandatory regime was neither unconstitutional nor could it be regarded as cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. 'The mandatory life sentence performs deterrent and denunciatory functions in support of the existing policy of the law,' Mr Justice Ribeiro said. He said it was also the legislature's intention to mark out murder as a uniquely serious crime by attaching only to that offence the mandatory life sentence, disregarding the degree of culpability of the individual involved and whether it be a mercy killing, a contract killing or a sadistic killing. 'The legislative judgment that the offence of murder, having regard to its gravity, calls for a sentence of mandatory life imprisonment, even allowing for the different circumstances in which it may be committed, is tenable and rational. As such, it is a legislative judgment which this court should respect.' Mr Justice Ribeiro observed that regulations providing procedural safeguards for prisoners to be subject to sentence reviews should be promulgated as soon as practicable in the case of those serving mandatory life sentences. 'In the meantime, the safeguards operated in respect of other prisoners should be applied administratively to prisoners serving mandatory life offences.' Where a mandatory life sentence is imposed, Mr Justice Ribeiro said the sentencing judge should give due consideration as to whether a report should be made if there are matters relating to the person or the offence which should be recorded for the purpose of reviewing the sentence in the future. Mr Justice Ribeiro, sitting with Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang, Mr Justice Patrick Chan Siu-oi, non-permanent judge Katlu Fuad and Sir Anthony Mason, also upheld the common-law principle that an intention to cause grievous bodily harm is sufficient to constitute an offence of murder when death results.