Whole-life tariffs are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and do not amount to ‘inhuman or degrading treatment’, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.
The case was taken to Europe in 2008 by Arthur Hutchinson, 73, who was sentenced to life in 1984 for murdering three members of a Sheffield family and raping another family member.
Hutchinson had claimed that his whole-life sentence breached article 3 of the ECHR (inhuman and degrading treatment) because he had no hope of release. He had unsuccessfully appealed against the sentence in both the High Court and Court of Appeal.
The Hutchinson ruling also overturns a 2013 judgment by the European human rights court that it was unclear whether the justice secretary had the power to release a whole-life prisoner in exceptional circumstances.
The six-to-one ruling in the Hutchinson case says the justice secretary does have this power and it is sufficient to comply with article 3.
Mark Hammond, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, commented: ‘We welcome this important clarification. This ruling reinforces the primacy of UK courts in interpreting domestic law in these cases.
‘It underlines that dialogue between the ECHR and our courts can be the best approach in resolving contentious issues.’