Murderer’s whole life sentence does not violate human rights laws, Strasbourg rules

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has dismissed a mass murderer’s legal challenge against his whole life sentence.

Arthur Hutchinson was jailed in 1984, after breaking into the home of Basil and Avril Laitner on the night of their daughter’s wedding. He stabbed the Sheffield couple and their adult son to death.

Originally the Judge at the time had said that the defendant should serve a minimum of 18 years, but then Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, later intervened and ordered Hutchinson to be added to the list of offenders to whom “life should mean life.”

He became the first Briton to challenge the decision, after the European Court of Human Rights previously signalled that whole life sentences violated human rights.

This week, his solicitors argued that the punishment breached Article 3 of the European Convention – which forbids “inhuman or degrading treatment.”

But the ECHR upheld the sentence by a majority of six to one, ruling that human rights would only be violated if there was no possibility of review.

Under UK law, the Secretary of State has the power to release a prisoner previously handed a whole life sentence in “exceptional circumstances”. This process was confirmed by the UK judiciary last year.

The decision in Strasbourg will be welcomed by the Government, who had feared being put on another collision course with the European courts.

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