Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Whole Life Sentences for Murder

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has given judgment in Hutchinson v UK.    By a majority of 14 to 3, held that there was no violation of Article 3 of the Convention with respect to the "whole life sentence" imposed on Arthur Hutchinson.   (Judges López Guerra; Pinto de Albuquerque; and Sajó dissented).  Previous posts - 3rd February 2015 and 12th June 2015.

The circumstances of the case are below.

In October 1983, the applicant broke into a family home, where he stabbed to death a man, his wife and their adult son. He then repeatedly raped their 18 year‑old daughter, having first dragged her past her father’s body. He was arrested several weeks later and charged with these offences.   At trial he pleaded not guilty, denying the killings and claiming that the sexual intercourse had been consensual.

On 14 September 1984, he was convicted of three counts of murder, rape, and aggravated burglary.

The trial judge sentenced the applicant to a term of life imprisonment and, in accordance with the rules on sentencing then in force, recommended a minimum period (tariff) of 18 years to the Secretary of State for the Home Office. When asked to give his opinion again on 12 January 1988, the judge wrote that “for the requirements of retribution and general deterrence this is genuinely a life case”. On 15 January 1988 the Lord Chief Justice recommended that the period should be set at a whole life term stating that “I do not think that this man should ever be released, quite apart from the risk which would be involved”. On 16 December 1994, the Secretary of State informed the applicant that he had decided to impose a whole life term.

Following the entry into force of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the applicant applied to the High Court for a review of his sentence, arguing that he should receive the 18-year tariff mentioned at his trial. On 16 May 2008, the High Court gave its judgment. It found that there was no reason to depart from the Secretary of State’s decision. The seriousness of the offences alone was such that the starting point was a whole life order. A number of very serious aggravating factors were present, and no mitigating factors. On 6 October 2008, the Court of Appeal dismissed the applicant’s appeal.

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