Petukhov v. Ukraine No. 2: Life Sentences Incompatible with the Convention, but only in Eastern Europe?

Lewis Graham is a PhD Student at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge.

Life sentences – that is, indefinite detention without any opportunity for release – is a thorny issue, and the involvement of the European Court of Human Rights in this field, particularly in cases concerning the United Kingdom, have recently courted great controversy. After a relatively quiet period, the Court has recently handed down a new judgment on these sentences – the first in two years – this time concerning Ukraine.

Like a number of other European states, Ukraine operates a fairly strict regime when it comes to life sentences. Any prisoner serving such a sentence who seeks release must rely on one of two routes to obtain it: they must prove that they have a serious, life-threatening illness or rely on a presidential clemency mechanism. The applicant in Petukhov v Ukraine (No 2), handed down 12 March 2019, challenged the Convention-compatibility of this scheme, in light of current case-law which suggests that life sentences will breach Article 3 ECHR if they do not include some “real prospect of release” (see e.g. cases against the UK, France, Hungary and many others).

It is well-established that allowing the vacation of a sentence on grounds that the prisoner is suffering from a serious illness is not, in itself, a legitimate mitigation of a sentence. Thus,  the main focus of the case at hand was the clemency route. The Court therefore analysed whether the applicant in this case had at his disposal a real “prospect of release” through the opportunity to obtain presidential clemency. Ultimately, it found that he did not, and found that Ukraine had breached Article 3 as a result. Continue reading

Difference in Treatment on the Ground of Sex Arising from Penal Policy Issues: Alexandru Enache v. Romania

By Beril Onder, PhD researcher at Ghent University and University of Strasbourg

On 3 October 2017 the Fourth Section of the Court delivered the judgment in Alexandru Enache v. Romania. The case concerned a discrimination complaint under Article 14 read in conjunction with Article 8 of the Convention, regarding a special measure granting women stay of execution of their prison sentences if they were pregnant or had a child under the age of one.[1] The issue concerned the difference in treatment between men and women arising from the penal policy, like the recent Grand Chamber judgment Khamtokhu and Aksenchik v. Russia, as the applicant was refused this stay of execution based solely on his gender. The Court, in both judgments, left a wide margin of appreciation to the State Parties, and supported its conclusion by referring to the international instruments addressing the needs of women for the protection of pregnancy and motherhood. However, both judgments can be considered problematic for different reasons from a perspective of gender stereotypes. Corina Heri, in her comment, already discussed the problems related to gender stereotypes in Khamtokhu and Aksenchik. The following comments will focus on the judgment in Alexandru Enache v. Romania. Continue reading

From ‘enfant terrible’ to the European Court of Human Rights: the case of Bamouhammad against Belgium

By Rebecca Deruiter, PhD Researcher at the Institute for International Research on Criminal Policy (IRCP), Ghent University[1]

In recent years, the case of Farid Bamouhammed has been covered frequently by Belgian media, characterizing him as notoriously unmanageable and resulting in the widespread used nickname of Farid ‘Le Fou’. After numerous judicial proceedings, by both Farid Bamouhammed and the Belgian State at the national level, the ECtHR convicted the Belgian State of violating Articles 3 and 13 ECHR. The applicant argued that the combined effect of numerous transfers and continuously living under a security regime amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment, resulting in a deterioration of his mental health. The applicant further argued that he was denied of an effective remedy to defend his complaints.

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Family Visits for Life Prisoners: Khoroshenko v Russia

Guest post by Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou (University of Surrey) and Filippo Fontanelli (University of Edinburgh)

On 30 June 2015, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgment in the case Khoroshenko v. Russia. With this decision, the Court set the boundaries of State regulation in the area of penitentiary policy, namely with respect to the right to family life of lifelong prisoners. The Court has often declared that Contracting Parties enjoy a broad margin of appreciation in this area, yet the margin has limits: the Court has recently taken upon it the task to map them. The judgment of Khoroshenko v. Russia, indeed, fits within a recent strand of the case law through which the Court has scrutinised the condition of incarceration of prisoners for life.

The applicant is serving a life sentence in Russia. Generally, all prisoners in Russia can receive short- and long-term family visits. For prisoners serving life terms, instead, the law prohibits long-term visits for the first decade of imprisonment (the ‘blanket ban’). According to an article from http://angelsbailbonds.com/, “Long-term visits last up to three days and can be unsupervised; short-term visits last up to four hours, they always take place under the supervision of guards and in rooms set up to exclude all physical contact with visitors (including sexual intimacy).” Mr Khoroshenko challenged before the ECtHR the blanket ban that he endured from 1999 to 2009, invoking Articles 8 and 14 of the ECHR.

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Belgium violated the ECHR by extraditing a terrorist to the USA despite an interim measure by the Strasbourg Court: Trabelsi v. Belgium

The Trabelsi case is noteworthy for two reasons. Firstly, because of the blatant disregard by Belgium of the interim measure issued by the European Court of Human Rights. Secondly, because of the application of the reasoning from Vinter v. UK – in which the Court found that life without parole is incompatible with Article 3 ECHR – to the context of extradition proceedings. The Court finds that the applicant’s extradition by Belgium to the USA, where he ran the risk of being convicted to life without parole and despite an interim measure to the contrary, was in violation of Articles 3 and 34 ECHR. This blog post will first highlight the latter violation, before questioning the Court’s reasoning with respect to the former one.

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Education in prison: right to education only protects access in case of ‘existing’ educational facilities (Velyo Velev v. Bulgaria)

In Velyo Velev v. Bulgaria, the Court found a violation of the right to education (Article 2 Protocol 1) in a case concerning the refusal to allow a prisoner to enrol in a secondary school operating inside the prison. While the judgment should be hailed for explicitly affirming that remand prisoners also enjoy the right to education, it is unfortunate that the Court continues to construct the scope of Article 2 Protocol 1 in a very narrow fashion. As a result the Court fails to provide genuine substance to the right to education in a prison context. Continue reading

Shitting in ‘closed’ overall not ‘degrading’ according to Strasbourg Court

If you look up the word ‘degrading’ in the dictionary, chances are that you find a picture there of a person who cannot help shitting him- or herself. In the case of Lindström and Mässeli v. Finland, the Strasbourg Court however did not consider that state authorities necessarily inflict ‘degrading treatment’ when they are responsible for bringing a prisoner in such a situation. The case concerns prisoners who were put in ‘closed’ overalls they were unable to remove, which resulted in them shitting themselves because the prison guards did not bring them in time to a toilet. According to the Court, this did not amount to a violation of Article 3 ECHR. The Court did find a violation of Article 8, but as will be argued below, since the protection offered by this provision is lower, it cannot be a genuine alternative for the applicability of Article 3.

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