On April 26, 2016, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that a life sentence was de facto irreducible because the applicant was denied medical treatment that could have positively affected his pardon requests and, consequently, held that the Netherlands violated the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), See ECtHR, Murray v. the Netherlands [GC], no. 10511/10 ECHR 2016, Judgment of 26 April 2016, para. 127. The applicant was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1979. Id. at para. 15. The judgment of the domestic court of first instance included a psychiatrist report which stated that, while he was criminally liable for the act, he suffered from a “pathological disturbance” and advised that he undergo treatment to avoid relapsing and committing further crimes. Id. at para. 12. Before the European Court, he argued that because he never received such treatment, the life sentence was irreducible and he was denied any hope of release. Id. at para. 87. In its 2013 judgment, a chamber of the ECtHR found no violation of Article 3 because the applicant’s case had been reviewed, providing a prospect of release, and the State may refuse to pardon a prisoner where that person poses a danger to society. See ECtHR, Murray v. the Netherlands, no. 10511/10, Judgment of 10 December 2013, at paras. 54-59.
The Court’s decision expands on the precedent of Vinter and Others v. the United Kingdom, in which it held that whole-life sentences without possibility of review violate Article 3, to consider the duty to provide an opportunity for rehabilitation in the context of a prisoner in need of treatment for mental health problems. See ECtHR, Vinter and Others v. the United Kingdom [GC] nos. 66069/09, 130/10 and 3896/10, Judgment of 9 July 2013. The decision in Vinter, among others, has given rise to tensions in the United Kingdom, with some politicians calling for measures to limit the ECtHR’s authority in the country’s legal system. [BBC] Read more