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11 Jul 2017

Danielle Reece-Greenhalgh comments on Phillip Harkins losing US extradition battle in The Times Law Brief and New Law Journal

Extradition specialists predicted yesterday that Phillip Harkins, a British man accused of murder in the US, would soon be on a flight to America after European human rights judges rejected his appeal.

The ruling yesterday at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) brought to an end 14 years of legal battles. The court’s Grand Chamber rejected Harkins’ second appeal for being “substantially the same” as one rejected in 2012. Lawyers for Harkins told the court that the US procedure of life without parole breached article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right not to suffer inhuman or degrading treatment, and he could therefore not be extradited.

Danielle Reece-Greenhalgh, Associate at Corker Binning, commented:

“Mr Harkins has reached a point, after 14 years, where the legal avenues available to him have been exhausted. Unless he or his legal team can find cogent and compelling new evidence with which to launch a fresh challenge, this will bring to an end one of the longest extradition battles in UK history, and Mr Harkins will be put on a plane back to the US.

The decision regarding the inadmissibility of Mr Harkins’ claim today does not in itself come as a surprise. The Court will only hear the same appeal again if different grounds are relied upon, or if new evidence can substantiate an existing ground in a way which is materially different to previous attempts.

The Court found in Mr Harkins’ 2011 claim that a life sentence in America without the possibility of parole did not violate an individual’s rights under Article 3 of the Convention (Article 3 being the right not to suffer inhuman or degrading treatment.) In any event, the Court noted that there was a system in Florida whereby clemency could be granted. In 2013, the same court (in Vinter and Others v United Kingdom) decided that in order for a life sentence not to constitute inhuman and degrading treatment, it must include at least the possibility of review and release. On the facts of the case, it would appear that Mr Harkins at least has the possibility (however slim) of release under this system but this is unlikely to come as any great comfort to him or his supporters.

This is the latest instalment in a decades long game of legal ping-pong between Strasbourg and the UK courts over the principle of life sentences without parole. Recent cases have demonstrated a stasis in the matter, with the UK’s domestic whole life sentences regime being declared compatible with the ECHR. The UK courts have an equal obligation not to facilitate potential breaches via its extradition regime by acceding to requests from countries where the same consideration of rights may not be afforded. By its latest decision the Court appears to have (for the time being at least) closed the door on this particular avenue of appeal.”

Read Danielle’s comments in The Times Law Brief and New Law Journal.