ECtHR Grand Chamber considers whole life sentences and Article 3 ECHR

On 21st October 2015, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights considered the appeal of Hutchinson v United Kingdom.  Joel Bennathan QC and Katy Thorne represented Mr Hutchinson, whose complaint is that his whole life sentence is incompatible with Article 3 of the Convention. Mr Hutchinson's case is highly controversial as it provides the European Court of Human Rights with a chance not only to consider the UK Government's and the Court of Appeal’s stance on this issue in the aftermath of R v McLaughlin [2014] 1 WLR 3964, (which ruled that UK whole life terms are compatible with Article 3), but also enables the Court to address the UK’s intransigence on fundamental human rights issues.  The UK Government sent the Attorney General to argue the issue, rather than their usual counsel, a sign, perhaps of their desperation to avoid defeat?

Following Vinter v United Kingdom 34 BHRC 605, decided in June 2013, whole life sentenced prisoners must be able to access a clear and foreseeable review mechanism so that their life sentence can be reviewed and its continuing penological justification scrutinised. If there is no such review mechanism then the life sentence will be "irreducible", which is a breach of Article 3 ECHR.  In Hutchinson the applicant is arguing that the UK government has failed to put in place an Article 3 compliant review mechanism because the only way that a whole life sentenced prisoner can be released is if there are exceptional, compassionate circumstances.  In fact there have been no releases of whole life prisoners.


You can watch the hearing here.


Joel Bennathan QC and Katy Thorne act for Mr Hutchinson, instructed by John Turner of Kyles Legal Practice.


Martha Spurrier acts for the intervener - the European Prison Litigation Network - instructed by Simon Creighton of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors.

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