Whole life sentence to be re-examined

A triple killer’s claim that his whole-life prison sentence breaches his human rights is to be re-examined by European judges.

Arthur Hutchinson’s case will be considered again after it was referred to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Earlier this year a judgment from the Strasbourg court ruled that there had been no violation.

However, Hutchinson applied for the case to be passed to the ECHR’s Grand Chamber. It has now emerged that his request has been accepted after it was assessed by a panel of five judges.

After an original Chamber judgment has been delivered, parties are able to ask for a referral to the Grand Chamber for fresh consideration. Requests are accepted on “an exceptional basis”, according to the ECHR’s website.

No details of the reason for referring Hutchinson’s case have been released.

The move will bring fresh scrutiny of the protracted issue of “life means life” terms.

Hutchinson was jailed in 1984 for stabbing Basil and Avril Laitner to death after breaking into the couple’s Sheffield home, and then killing one of their sons.

The judge in his original trial ruled that he should serve 18 years but then-home secretary Leon Brittan later determined he should face the whole-life tariff.

In 2008, Hutchinson had a domestic appeal against whole-life tariffs kicked out by the Court of Appeal.

He was the first Briton to challenge the sentence after a controversial ruling by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in July 2013 that whole-life tariffs breach human rights.

The Strasbourg-based court held that there had been a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights – which relates to inhuman and degrading treatment – on the basis that whole-life orders were not “reducible”.

In that decision judges did not say whole-life sentences were incompatible with the convention, but that there had to be the possibility of a review at some stage and that current laws allowing for release in exceptional circumstances were unclear.

Relying on Article 3, Hutchinson claims that his whole life sentence amounts to “inhuman and degrading treatment” as he has no hope of release.

Court of Appeal judges ruled last year that the Grand Chamber was wrong when it said in a previous ruling that the law of England and Wales did not clearly provide for “reducibility”, saying the domestic law “is clear as to ‘possible exceptional release of whole-life prisoners'”.

They underlined the power given to the Secretary of State to release a prisoner on licence if he is satisfied that exceptional circumstances exist which justify the prisoner’s release on compassionate grounds.

In February judges at the ECHR found by a majority that they consider the legal situation in the UK to be in line with human rights laws, ruling that in Hutchinson’s case there was no violation of Article 3 as the Secretary of State has the power to review whole-life sentences.

Mark Leech editor of the national prisoners newspaper Converse said he would expect the re examination of the whole life tariff to uphold the original decision.

Mr Leech said “It would be an extraordinary state of affairs if someone could murder three people and expect that one day they could once again walk the streets – I just dont think the public would either understand or accept that.”

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