European Court of Human Rights stays extradition to the United States on Article 3 grounds - Hafeez v UK

Mr Hafeez was granted Rule 39 relief from the European Court on two grounds, firstly because he faced a federal sentence of life without parole and secondly on the basis of evidence of inhuman and degrading prison conditions in New York at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre (MCC) and Metropolitan Detention Centre (MDC) under the Coronavirus pandemic.

In a line of case-law beginning with Vinter v UK in 2013, the European Court of Human Rights has found that sentences of imprisonment for life without parole, where there is no other transparent and realistic mechanism for review, amount to inhuman and degrading treatment in breach of Article 3 ECHR.

One issue in this case is whether the American mechanisms for review of life sentences without parole – Presidential clemency and compassionate release pursuant to Title 18, paragraph 3582 of the US Code – are sufficiently objective, transparent and fair. If not, extradition to that country would be in violation of Article 3 ECHR. The Divisional Court in Hafeez v Government of the USA [2020] EWHC 155 (Admin) found that there would be no such breach of Article 3 ECHR.

Another issue is whether removal of the applicant to the US prison system, suffering from substantial outbreaks of COVID-19, would breach Article 3 ECHR in circumstances where he has relevant comorbidities.

When communicating the case the Court posed the following questions to the UK government and the Applicant:

1.  If the applicant were to be extradited to the United States of America, would there be a real risk that he would be subjected to inhuman and degrading punishment through the imposition of an “irreducible” life sentence? In particular, would his extradition, in circumstances where he risks the imposition of a life sentence without parole, be consistent with the requirements of Article 3 of the Convention (see in particular Harkins and Edwards v. the United Kingdom, nos. 9146/07 and 32650/07, 17 January 2012, Vinter and Others v. the United Kingdom [GC], nos. 66069/09130/10 and 3896/10, ECHR 2013 (extracts) and Trabelsi v. Belgium, no. 140/10, ECHR 2014 (extracts))?

2.  Having particular regard to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, if the applicant were to be extradited would there be a real risk of a breach of Article 3 of the Convention on account of the conditions of detention he would face on arrival?

As a consequence of granting rule 39 relief for Mr Hafeez the Court has since granted the same protection on the same grounds for Mr Sanchez.

Edward Fitzgerald QC and Ben Cooper QC drafted the application for rule 39 relief, instructed by Akhtar Raja of Quist Solicitors.