On 3 November 2022, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in the case Sanchez-Sanchez v. the United Kingdom (Application no. 22854/20). The case concerned a Mexican national who was arrested in the United Kingdom following a request from the United States of America (US) based on the suspicion of his involvement in drug trafficking in the US. The applicant claimed that his extradition to the US would be in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights due to the risk of receiving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

The Grand Chamber underlined the general principles concerning sentences of life without parole in the extradition context. The Court acknowledged that the imposition of a sentence of life imprisonment on an adult offender was not in itself prohibited by or incompatible with Article 3 or any other Article of the Convention; however, it recognised that the imposition of an irreducible life sentence on an adult without any prospects of release or grossly disproportionate sentence could raise an issue under Article 3 ECHR. The Court referred to the principles established for domestic criminal cases in Vinter and Others v. the United Kingdom (application nos. 66069/09, 130/10 and 3896/10) and held that this approach must be adapted in extradition context. First, the applicant has the burden to prove substantial grounds for believing there is a real risk that if convicted, there is a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. Secondly, Article 3 must be interpreted as requiring reducibility of the sentence both de jure and de facto through a review mechanism allowing the domestic authorities to consider the prisoner’s progress towards rehabilitation or any other ground for release based on behaviour or other relevant personal circumstances.

Addressing the potential breach of Article 3 in the present case at hand, the Court found that the applicant cannot be said to have adduced evidence capable of showing that his extradition to the US would expose him to a real risk of treatment reaching the Article 3 threshold as it is not clear the applicant would receive a sentence of life imprisonment. For this reason, the Court concluded that the applicant’s extradition to the US would be consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights.