Hartlepool triple killer Arthur Hutchinson appeals whole-life sentence judgment

Arthur Hutchinson serving a life sentence for the mureder of a solicitor and his wife and son after a family wedding party.
Arthur Hutchinson serving a life sentence for the mureder of a solicitor and his wife and son after a family wedding party.

A Hartlepool 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).

We are clear that those who commit the most heinous crimes should face the prospect of spending the rest of their lives behind bars

Ministry of Justice spokesman

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, known as ‘The Fox’. 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.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We are clear that those who commit the most heinous crimes should face the prospect of spending the rest of their lives behind bars.”