European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights

Hungary: New legislation reviewing whole life sentences incompatible with human rights convention

In a ruling today, Strasbourg judges have declared that new legislation in Hungary for reviewing whole life sentences is not compatible with the European Convention.

In today’s judgment in the case of T.P. and A.T. v. Hungary (application nos. 37871/14 and 73986/14) the European Court of Human Rights held, by six votes to one, that there had been:

a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case concerned new legislation introduced in Hungary in 2015 for reviewing whole life sentences. The legislation was introduced in order to comply with an European court judgment of 2014 in which the court found that the system for reviewing whole life sentences in Hungary should be reformed.

The applicants, T.P and A.T. are Hungarian nationals who were born in 1981 and 1985 respectively and are currently serving prison terms in Sátoraljaújhely (Hungary). T.P. was convicted in November 2006 of murder committed with special cruelty and use of firearms. Mr A.T. was convicted in May 2010 of double murder and use of firearms.

Both applicants were sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole. These judgments were upheld on appeal. Both their petitions for review before the Supreme Court as well as their requests for pardon were subsequently dismissed.

The applicants alleged that despite the new legislation, which introduced an automatic review of whole life sentences – via a mandatory pardon procedure – after 40 years, their sentences remained inhuman and degrading as they had no hope of release.

The court found in particular that making a prisoner wait 40 years before he or she could expect for the first time to be considered for clemency was too long and that, in any case, there was a lack of sufficient safeguards in the remainder of the procedure provided by the new legislation.

The court was not therefore persuaded that, at the present time, the applicants’ life sentences could be regarded as providing them with the prospect of release or a possibility of review and that the legislation was not therefore compatible with Article 3 of the convention.

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