On 13 February 2024, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECtHR) issued a decision in Jonah Horne v United Kingdom refusing the appeal of Jonah Horne against his extradition to the U.S.

Ben Keith was instructed to represent Mr Horne who faces charges of second-degree murder in Florida. Mr Keith argued that Mr Horne’s extradition should not be allowed on the grounds that he was likely to receive a sentence of life without parole (“LWOP”) upon conviction in the U.S. Whole life sentences can be in in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The ECtHR refused the arguments put forward and held that there was no “real risk” of Mr Horne receiving LWOP upon conviction, based on assurances provided by the US Prosecutor that they would not seek a whole life sentence of more than 40 years imprisonment. Rather problematically, such diplomatic assurances do not bind the sentencing court as the determination of the final sentence rests with the sentencing judge, not the prosecutor. Indeed, it is at the judges’ discretion to entirely disregard any sentencing recommendations and, as seen in practice in the U.S., not uncommon for judges to do so.

The decision in Horne v United Kingdom marks the third in the ECtHR’s saga of cases concerning the issue of whether LWOP sentences imposed in the U.S. are “irreducible” and compliant with Article 3 ECHR. 

As in Horne, the Strasbourg Court has repeatedly refused appeals against extradition from individuals claiming they would face whole life sentences upon return to the U.S. In each case, the Court found that there was no “real risk” of a LWOP sentence being imposed. The “real risk” test was set out by the ECtHR in the landmark decision of Sanchez-Sanchez vs United Kingdom, stipulating that the applicant must demonstrate a real risk that they would receive a LWOP if convicted. If that is the case, the sending state must ascertain whether there is an adequate sentence review process. Horne was another missed opportunity for the ECtHR to clarify the second stage of the Sanchez-test. The decisions in these recent cases – Sanchez-Sanchez, Balahan v Sweden and Horne – indicate that the ECtHR has set a very high bar when assessing whether there is a “real risk” of a life sentence, weakening the protection against expulsion.

Following the ruling, Ben Keith featured in the BBC, commenting:

"It is difficult to see how anyone will be able to show that they will receive a life without parole sentence. The evidential test has become much higher with recent cases."

The ECtHR decision was also covered by The Irish News and the Belfast Telegraph.

It remains interesting to see how Florida judges will decide in Mr Horne’s case, whether the ECtHR’s decision will be considered, and how Mr Horne will be treated in the U.S.

Ben Keith was instructed by Roger Sahota at Berkley Square Solicitors in Horne, the case of Balahan and the case of Sanchez-Sanchez.

Ben Keith is a leading barrister specialising in cross-border and international cases. He deals with all aspects of Extradition, Human Rights, Mutual Legal Assistance, Interpol, Financial crime and International Law including sanctions. He has extensive experience of appellate proceedings before the Administrative and Divisional Courts, Criminal and Civil Court of Appeal as well as applications and appeals to the European Court of Human Rights and United Nations.