University of Limerick
Mccutcheon_2006_Ireland.pdf (5.74 MB)

Life sentences in Ireland and the European convention on human rights

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journal contribution
posted on 2013-10-15, 11:33 authored by Paul J McCutcheon, Gerard Coffey
The distinctive feature of the sentence of life imprisonment is that it is indeterminate. Unlike a prisoner serving a fixed term the life sentence prisoner does not know when, if ever, he or she will be released. Moreover, where the sanction is mandatory, life imprisonment is an inflexible instrument that does not take account of the culpability of the particular offender and such sentences are difficult to reconcile with the principle of proportionality. I It is not surprising that the compatibility of life sentences with human rights principles has become a matter of concern, as have the arrangements put in place to facilitate the release of life sentence prisoners.2 The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has delivered a series of rulings in which life sentences have been evaluated in the light of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Court has not declared that the life sentence per se involves a breach of the ECHR but it has pronounced on the review mechanisms and procedures that are required by the Convention. In short, once the punitive element of a life sentence has been served the prisoner is entitled to frequent and speedy review of the lawfulness of his or her imprisonment by an independent and impartial tribunal. The stated purpose underlying this regime is to protect the prisoner against the arbitrary prolonging of his or her incarceration. The current Irish position is that the question of release is exclusively an executive matter and the courts have demonstrated a marked reluctance to interfere with the exercise of that power. The power of release has been assigned by statute to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Parole Board, a non-statutory body, advises the Minister but crucially he or she is not bound by that advice. In a series of decisions the superior courts in Ireland have invoked separation of powers Considerations to reinforce this stance and they have demonstrated a marked reluctance to interfere with the exercise of that executive power.



The Irish yearbook of international law, Jean Allain & Siobhán Ní Mhaolealaidh (eds);1, pp. 101-119


Hart Publishing Oxford





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