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United Kingdom: Court rules against killer’s complaint at whole life sentence

This morning, judges ruled against a complaint brought against the United Kingdom by convicted murderer Arthur Hutchinson.

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Hutchinson v. the United Kingdom (application no. 57592/08) the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held, by a majority, that there had been:

no violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment)of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case concerned the complaint by Hutchinson, a British national who was born in 1941 and is detained in Her Majesty’s Prison Durham (the United Kingdom) about his whole life sentence for murder. Hutchinson says his sentence amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment as he had no hope of release.

In September 1984, Hutchinson was convicted of aggravated burglary, rape and three counts of murder, the trial judge sentencing him to a term of life imprisonment with a recommended
minimum tariff of 18 years.

In December 1994, the Secretary of State informed Hutchinson that he had decided to impose a whole life term and, in May 2008, the High Court found that there was no reason for deviating from this decision given the seriousness of Hutchinson’s offences.

In a previous judgment, in the case of Vinter and Others v. the United Kingdom, of 9 July 2013, the court had found that the domestic law concerning the Justice Secretary’s power to release a whole life prisoner was unclear.

However, in its judgment in R v. Newell; R v. McLoughlin, of 18 February 2014 the Court of Appeal had explicitly addressed those doubts and held that the Secretary of State for Justice was obliged under national law to release a person detained on a whole life order where “exceptional grounds” for release could be shown to exist, and that this power of release was reviewable by the national courts.

Having regard to this clarification, in today’s judgment, the ECtHR concluded that whole life orders were open to review under national law and therefore compatible with Article 3 of the Convention.

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