Regina v Lichniak; Regina v Pyrah: CACD 2 May 2001

The claimants sought by judicial review to challenge their separate sentences to life imprisonment for murder, saying that section 1 of the 1965 Act was incompatible wth their rights under articles 3 and 5 of the Convention. They argued that all life sentences fell into two parts, the penal element, meeting the requirements of retribution and deterrence, and a second and further part for the protection of the public. Where, as here, there was no such forseeable risk from the defendant, he or she should be released after the first object of the sentence was achieved.
Held: Though the arguments might be attractive politically, as the law stood, they failed.
Where the challenge to a sentence was on the basis that the provision under which it was imposed was a breach of the defendant’s human rights, an appeal would be taken by the Court of Appeal even though on the face of it the Act in question denied the possibility of such an appeal. A person convicted of murder was subject to an automatic death sentence, and the Court of Appeal would hear an application asserting that this was an infringement of the human rights of a defendant. The weight of jurisprudence was overwhelmingly in favour of such an automatic sentence not being such an infringement. In reality, the sentence was indeterminate, and only exceptionally would a true life sentence be served, and there was sufficient consideration of the individual’s circumstances to make it not arbitrary or inflexible.


Kennedy LJ, Garland, Richards JJ


Times 16-May-2001, Gazette 14-Jun-2001, [2001] EWHC Admin 294, [2001] 3 WLR 933, [2002] QB 296




Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965 9(1), Criminal Appeal Act 1968 9(1), Human Rights Act 1998, European Convention on Human Rights 3 5


England and Wales

Cited by:

Appeal fromRegina v Lichniak HL 25-Nov-2002
The appellants challenged the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment imposed on them on their convictions for murder. They said it was an infringement of their Human Rights, being arbitrary and disproportionate.
Held: The case followed on . .
CitedVinter And Others v The United Kingdom ECHR 9-Jul-2013
(Grand Chamber) The three appellants had each been convicted of exceptionally serious murders, and been sentenced to mandatory life sentences, but with provision that they could not be eligible for early release, making them whole life terms. They . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Criminal Practice, Criminal Sentencing, Human Rights

Leading Case

Updated: 30 June 2022; Ref: scu.88539