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Court: Life sentencing in Russia is not discriminatory

Human rights judges rejected a complaint against Russia and ruled that life sentencing in the country is not discriminatory.

In its Grand Chamber judgment in the case of Khamtokhu and Aksenchik v. Russia (application no. 60367/08) concerning an allegation of discriminatory age- and gender-related differences in life
sentences, the European Court of Human Rights held:

by sixteen votes to one, that there had been no violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights, taken in conjunction with Article 5 (right to liberty and security) of the Convention, as regards the difference in treatment in life sentencing in Russia on account of age;

and

by ten votes to seven, that there had been no violation of Article 14 of the Convention, taken in conjunction with Article 5, as regards the difference in treatment on account of sex.

The applicants Alsan Bachmizovich Khamtokhu and Artyom Aleksandrovich Aksenchik alleged that, as adult males serving life sentences for a number of serious criminal offences, they had been discriminated against as compared to other categories of convicts – women, persons under 18 when their offence had been committed or over 65 when the verdict had been delivered – who were exempt from life imprisonment by operation of the law.

The court found that the justification for the difference in treatment between the applicants and certain other categories of offenders, namely to promote principles of justice and humanity, had been legitimate. It was also satisfied that exempting certain categories of offenders from life imprisonment had been a proportionate means to achieving those principles.

In coming to that conclusion, it bore in mind the practical operation of life imprisonment in Russia, both as to the manner of its imposition and to the possibility of subsequent review. In particular, the life sentences imposed on the applicants themselves had not been arbitrary or unreasonable and would be reviewed after 25 years.

Moreover, the court also took account of the considerable room for manoeuvre given to contracting states to decide on such matters as penal policy, given the lack of any European consensus on life sentencing apart from as concerned juvenile offenders, who were exempted from life imprisonment in all Contracting States without exception.

Indeed, it would be difficult to criticise the Russian legislature for exempting certain groups of offenders from life imprisonment, that exemption representing, all things considered, social progress in penological matters.

Life sentencing and European human rights

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