The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has granted, by 16 votes to one, an appeal by three men in England who have been sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of release. These sentences, the men claimed, breached their human rights according Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which forbids ‘inhuman and degrading treatment.’ The court agreed.
In its ruling the court said, inter alia:
If such a prisoner is incarcerated without any prospect of release and without the possibility of having his life sentence reviewed, there is the risk that he can never atone for his offence: whatever the prisoner does in prison, however exceptional his progress towards rehabilitation, his punishment remains fixed and unreviewable. If anything, the punishment becomes greater with time: the longer the prisoner lives, the longer his sentence.
The court added that prisoners must have their sentences reviewed, with regard to release, after 25 years at the latest, and regularly thereafter.
At first sight, this ruling might seem compassionate; the judges clearly feel, or claim to feel, for the convicted men. But actually the sentimentality of the judgment is but the reverse side of its implicit brutality, as well as being an invitation to legal arbitrariness.