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Court: Hungary should reform its system for reviewing whole life sentences

Judges want Hungary to reform its system for reviewing whole life sentences, after ruling in favour of a prisoner’s human rights protest against his jail term.

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of László Magyar v. Hungary (application no. 73593/10), which is not final, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatments) of the European Convention on Human Rights as concerned Magyar’s life sentence without eligibility for parole,

and

a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial within a reasonable time) as concerned the excessive length of the criminal proceedings brought against Magyar.

The applicant, László Magyar, is a Hungarian national who was born in 1966 and is currently detained at Szeged Prison (Hungary). In 2002, criminal proceedings were initiated against Magyar and some other people who were suspected of having committed a series of burglaries against elderly people.

Soon after the assaults, several victims had died as a result of their injuries. In May 2005, Magyar was convicted of murder, robbery and several offences, and was sentenced to life imprisonment without eligibility for parole.

The court was not persuaded that Hungarian law allowed life prisoners to know what they had to do to be considered for release and under what conditions. Moreover, the law did not guarantee a proper consideration of the changes in the life of prisoners and their progress towards rehabilitation.

Therefore, the Court concluded that the sentence of Mr Magyar could not be regarded as reducible, which amounted to a violation of Article 3. However, the court noted that the finding of a violation could not be understood as giving Mr Magyar the prospect of imminent release; it had not been even argued in the case that there were no longer any grounds for his detention.

Moreover, the court held that this case disclosed a systemic problem which could give rise to similar applications. Therefore, for the proper implementation of this judgment, Hungary would be required to put in place a reform of the system of review of whole life sentences to guarantee the examination in every case of whether continued detention is justified on legitimate grounds and to enable whole life prisoners to foresee what they must do to be considered for release and under what conditions.

Article 41 (just satisfaction)

The court held, by six votes to one, that Hungary was to pay Magyar 2,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 4,150 in respect of costs and expenses.

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