Court: Ukraine should reform its system for reviewing whole-life sentences

Human rights judges want Ukraine to reform its system reviewing whole-life sentences.

In its 12 March  Chamber judgment  in the case Petukhov v. Ukraine (No. 2 – application no. 41216/13) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously,

that there had been a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights because the applicant Volodymyr Petukhov had no prospect of release from or possibility of review of his life sentence.

Under Article 41 (just satisfaction), the court held, by six votes to one, that the finding of a violation constituted in itself sufficient just satisfaction for the non-pecuniary damage sustained by Petukhov in relation to his complaint about his life sentence.

It held, unanimously, that Ukraine was to pay Petukhov 750 euros (EUR) in respect of pecuniary damage, EUR 10,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage on account of the inadequate medical care, EUR 10,000 in respect of legal costs to be paid to his lawyer and EUR 20 for postal costs and expenses.

Under Article 46 (implementation), the court held that the case disclosed a systemic problem concerning life imprisonment in Ukraine.

There were already over 60 similar applications pending before the European court. For the proper implementation of the judgment, Ukraine would therefore 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 was justified on legitimate grounds and to enable whole-life prisoners to foresee what they had to do to be considered for release and under what conditions.

The case mainly concerned prisoner Volodymyr Petukhov’s complaint that Ukrainian law did not provide for release on parole for life prisoners. Petukhov has been serving a life sentence since 2004.

In particular, presidential clemency, the only procedure for mitigating life sentences in Ukraine, was not clearly formulated, nor did it have adequate procedural guarantees against abuse.

Furthermore, life prisoners’ conditions of detention in Ukraine made it impossible for them to progress towards rehabilitation and for the authorities to therefore carry out a genuine review of their sentence.

The court held, unanimously, that there had been a further violation of Article 3 of the European Convention because Petukhov had not been provided with adequate medical care for tuberculosis since July 2010.

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