Today, the High Court in London will make a judgement about whether Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, has served enough time for the murders he committed in Yorkshire and Lancashire between 1975 and 1980.

The Bradford-born lorry driver, now 64, is appealing against a decision made earlier that he should not be considered for parole.

In 1981, he was given 20 life sentences for murdering 13 women. The judge recommended that he serve a minimum of 30 years. That time expires next year.

Four years ago, one national newspaper reported that Dr Kevin Murray, a consultant psychiatrist at Broadmoor secure hospital, who had treated Sutcliffe from 2001, said that he was “virtually cured” of the paranoid schizophrenia at the time of his crimes.

Whether Peter Sutcliffe, or Peter Coonan as he now calls himself, can expect to be released awaits the decision of the High Court.

But the very idea that the man who murdered 13 women, attacked numerous others, orphaned 23 children and psychologically-wounded scores more, including the late Sonia McCann, divides opinion.

Among those who think the time may have come to review the penalty of life imprisonment is Chris Abbott, freelance writer and an honorary visiting research fellow at Bradford University’s department of Peace Studies.

He says: “The death penalty is based primarily on retribution and creates more victims and brutalises everyone involved in the process. The alternative for offenders who have committed multiple murder, such as Peter Sutcliffe, is life imprisonment.

“This serves the purpose of punishing the offender, protecting the public, acting as a deterrent to other potential offenders and provides victims’ families with some sense of justice. However, it does not allow for rehabilitation.

“Sutcliffe was imprisoned in 1981, aged 34; he is now in his 60s and psychiatrists believe he poses a low risk to the public. He was diagnosed as mentally-ill and has been receiving treatment for nearly 20 years.

“No length of time in prison can make up for the deaths of 13 women; so the best we can hope for is that he is now a different person from the man who committed those crimes.

“Whether he is released is the judgement of his psychiatrists and the Ministry of Justice. If he is to be released, it would have to be an extremely slow process of rehabilitation and reintegration – it should not happen overnight as he will have been institutionalised by his time in Broadmoor.

“There is a wider debate to be had on whether life should mean life, but at the moment each individual case should be judged on its own merits.”

Richard McCann disagrees. The son of Wilma McCann, Sutcliffe’s first victim in 1975, turned his life around to become a motivational speaker, emphasising what he calls the ‘iCan’ mentality.

The author of the best-selling book Just A Boy, and a believer in the redemptive possibilities of rehabilitation, Richard is of the firm opinion that for his mother’s killer, life should mean life.

He says: “What he did back in the 1970s sets him apart from most who have committed murder in this country. There are individuals who have done far less than he has and have received a whole life tariff.

“The effect of what he did is still being felt within my own family, and I imagine it is in all the countless family members of those who survived.

“Today is about the women who died, their families and the untold pain he has caused. I now have three children. My eldest is four soon and asked me this week how and why Auntie Sonia, my sister, died.

“Soon I will have to introduce my children to the fact that they are associated with this man and one day will discover that Sonia, whom we speak about daily, took her own life.

“She could not bear to continue with life because of what happened to mum in 1975.”

Were Sutcliffe or Coonan to be released, how long could he hope to spend the rest of his days in anonymity without fear of ultimate retribution from somebody among the many he has hurt?