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R (on the application of Wellington) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department

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Court/Judicial body: High Court of Justice in England, Queen’s Bench Division

Citation: [2007] EWHC 1109
Date: 18 May 2007
Instrument(s) cited: Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“ECHR”): Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment), Article 5(1) (right to liberty and security)

Case summary

Background: This was an appeal for judicial review brought by Ralston Wellington, who had been handed an order by the Secretary of State for extradition to the United States to face charges of murder in the first degree, among other charges. Wellington would be sentenced to a whole-life term of imprisonment without the possibility of parole as the mandatory penalty if he were extradited and then found guilty. Wellington argued that, as he would face a mandatory sentence, which had been fixed by the State legislature and could not be adjusted by the trial court, his extradition would breach Article 3 of the ECHR. He argued that a fixed sentence like this was necessarily arbitrary, and therefore likely to be disproportionate.

Issue and resolution: Mandatory life imprisonment without parole; whether the applicant’s extradition to the United States would constitute inhuman or degrading punishment. The court dismissed Wellington’s appeal. Such a sentence could not be regarded as giving rise to a breach of Article 3 in this particular case.

Court reasoning: In extradition cases such as this, the court should consider the surrounding circumstances of the case in order to determine whether extradition would lead to a breach of Article 3.  In this particular case, the sentence Wellington would face if found guilty would not be disproportionate to the gravity of his crime, even though his sentence would be imposed by a blanket rule.  Wellington was charged with double murder including the use of a firearm, and there were no mitigating circumstances.  Therefore, in this case and in these circumstances, Wellington’s extradition would not breach Article 3.

Notes: Wellington appealed this decision to the United Kingdom House of Lords (see [2008] UKHL 72).   The House of Lords again dismissed Wellington’s appeal. However, all five Law Lords found that, in a sufficiently exceptional case, an extradition would be in violation of Article 3 if the applicant faced a grossly disproportionate sentence in the receiving State. Wellington was finally extradited to the United States in 2010, to face trial. Wellington pleaded guilty in Jackson County Circuit Court to two counts of voluntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to a 15 year prison term as part of a plea arrangement that dismissed the original charges of first degree murder.

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