Case of European Court of Human Rights, February 12, 2008 (case Kafkaris v. Cyprus [GC])

Resolution DateFebruary 12, 2008

Information Note on the Court’s case-law No. 105

February 2008

Kafkaris v. Cyprus [GC] - 21906/04

Judgment 12.2.2008 [GC]

Article 3

Degrading treatment

Inhuman treatment

Mandatory life sentence with no prospect of release for good behaviour following changes to the legislation: no violation

Article 7

Article 7-1

Nullum crimen sine lege

Conflicting statutory provisions concerning meaning of a sentence of life imprisonment for the purposes of establishing eligibility for remission: violation

Change of law on remission for good behaviour in case of a life prisoner who had been informed at the outset by the trial court that his sentence meant imprisonment for life: no violation

Facts: In 1989 the applicant was found guilty on three counts of premeditated murder and given mandatory life sentences under the Criminal Code. At the time the Prison (General) Regulations, as amended, stipulated that life prisoners were eligible for remission of up to a quarter of their sentence. For that purpose, imprisonment for life was defined as meaning imprisonment for twenty years. At the hearing on sentencing in the applicant’s case, the prosecution invited the assize court to clarify whether life imprisonment in his case would entail imprisonment for life or for the period of twenty years referred to in the prison regulations, as in the latter instance it wished to apply for the sentences to run consecutively. The court held that the term meant imprisonment for the remainder of the convicted person’s life. However, on his arrival at the prison, the applicant was notified by the prison authorities that with good behaviour he would qualify for release in 2002. Subsequently, the Supreme Court declared in a separate case that the regulations governing remission of sentence were unconstitutional and ultra vires and new legislation was enacted which prevented life prisoners applying for remission for good behaviour. The applicant was not released on the date that had been notified by the prison authorities and applied to the Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus. However, his application and subsequent appeal were both dismissed. The only prospects of release now open to life prisoners in Cyprus are under the President’s constitutional powers to suspend, remit or commute a sentence on the recommendation of the Attorney‑General or statutory powers to order conditional release with the latter’s agreement.

Law: Article 3 – (a) Length of detention: While the...

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