Information Note on the Court’s case-law No. 174
László Magyar v. Hungary - 73593/10
Judgment 20.5.2014 [Section II] See:  ECHR 491
Life imprisonment de jure and de facto irreducible despite provision for presidential pardon: violation
Execution of judgment
Measures of a general character
Respondent State required to introduce system of review of whole life sentences
Facts – The applicant was convicted of murder, robbery and several other offences and was sentenced to life imprisonment without eligibility for parole. Although Article 9 of the Fundamental law provides for the possibility of a presidential pardon, since the introduction of whole life terms in 1999, there has been no decision to grant clemency to any prisoner serving such a sentence.
Law – Article 3: A whole life prisoner is entitled to know, at the outset of his sentence, what he must do to be considered for release and under what conditions, including when a review of his sentence will take place or may be sought. Consequently, where domestic law does not provide any mechanism or possibility for review of a whole life sentence, the incompatibility with Article 3 on this ground arises at the moment of the imposition of the whole life sentence and not at a later stage of incarceration.
It was true that in Törköly* the Court had taken into account the fact that the applicant in that case might have been granted presidential clemency. However, in the present case where the applicant’s eligibility for release on parole had been excluded, a stricter scrutiny of the regulation and practice of presidential clemency was required. Domestic legislation did not oblige the authorities or the President of the Republic to assess, whenever a prisoner requested a pardon, whether his or her continued imprisonment was justified on legitimate penological grounds. Although the authorities had a general duty to collect information about the prisoner and enclose it with the pardon request, the law did not provide any specific guidance as to what kind of criteria or conditions were to be taken into account in the gathering and organisation of such personal particulars and in the assessment of the request. Neither the Minister of Justice nor the President of the Republic was bound to give reasons for the decisions concerning such requests. Therefore, the Court was not persuaded that the institution of presidential clemency, taken alone (without being complemented by eligibility for release on parole) and as its regulation stood, allowed prisoners to know what they had to do to be considered for release and under what conditions. The regulation did not guarantee proper consideration of the changes and progress towards rehabilitation made by the prisoner, however significant they might be. Therefore, the applicant’s life sentence could not be regarded as reducible for the purposes of Article 3 of the Convention.
Conclusion: violation (unanimously).
The Court also found, unanimously, a violation of Article 6 § 1 in respect of the length of the criminal proceedings against the applicant.
Article 41: Finding of a violation constituted sufficient just satisfaction in respect of any non-pecuniary damage concerning the applicant’s complaint under Article 3; EUR 2,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage concerning the complaint under Article 6 § 1.
Article 46: For the proper execution of the present judgment the respondent State was required to put in place a reform, preferably by means of legislation, of the system of review of whole life sentences. The mechanism of such a review should guarantee the examination in every particular case of whether continued detention was justified on legitimate penological grounds and should enable whole life prisoners to foresee, with some degree of precision, what they must do to be considered for release and under what conditions.
(See also Vinter and Others v. the United Kingdom [GC], 66069/09, 130/10 and 3896/10, 7 July 2013, Information Note 165)
* Törköly v. Hungary (dec), 4413/06, 5 April 2011.
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This summary by the Registry does not bind the Court.
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