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Prohibition of Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment

III. Life Imprisonment

 The Criminal Code prescribes a sentence of life imprisonment for the most serious crimes. Within the Lithuanian legal system, life imprisonment actually does what it says on the tin, i.e. the convicted person is imprisoned until his death. Unlike with many other punishments, there is not even a theoretical possibility of parole following the consideration of the changes to the convicted person's personality or his possible rehabilitation. The Code of Enforcement of Punishments sets an explicit prohibition on the conditional release of convicts sentenced to life imprisonment.

In the case of Vinter and others v the United Kingdom, the European Counrt of Human Rights ruled that a life sentence without the slightest chance of review or reduction in length, even in view of significant changes in the prisoner and progress towards rehabilitation, is tantamount to inhuman and degrading treatment of the convict.

As such, a person sentenced to life imprisonment, may only avoid finishing his life in prison on several grounds of clemency, none of which directly depend on his efforts to change or how successful they are. The person may be released from the rest of his sentence, if he becomes seriously and terminally ill;[1] a person can also be released on political grounds for clemency, either by a group act, when Parliament adopts an amnesty act, or an individual act, when he is granted a Presidential pardon.[2]

 In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgment in the case of Vinter and others v the United Kingdom,[3] which raises reasonable doubt whether the current Lithuanian life imprisonment regime complies with international human rights standards. The court ruled that a life sentence without the slightest chance of review or reduction in length, even in view of significant changes in the prisoner and progress towards rehabilitation, is tantamount to inhuman and degrading treatment of the convict.

This does not mean that all persons sentenced to life imprisonment should be released, but the possibility to do so must exist if their level of rehabilitation reaches a point where continued detention can no longer be justified on legitimate penological grounds.

At the end of 2013, ECtHR agreed to examine the application of a group of convicts sentenced to life imprisonment for violating their rights, with Lithuania being the alleged guilty party.[4] The application states that the life sentences given to the applicants as well as the regulation of life imprisonment in general violates the prohibition against inhuman and degrading treatments enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

The ability to reduce the length of a sentence for life provide for in the Lithuanian legal system cannot be seen as a review of the sentence, as is required by the standards laid down by the ECtHR. The reduction of the sentence is dependent either on a severe deterioration in the convict's health, or on the absolute discretion of politicians. At the same time, the Lithuanian legal system does not allow reviewing a person's sentence specifically with regard to his rehabilitation, so the current regulation of life imprisonment does not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Findings and Recommendations 

  • The current provisions for life imprisonment in Lithuania do not allow for a review of the necessity of further incarceration, taking into account significant changes in the personality of the convicted. This is why there is reasonable doubt that life imprisonment in its current form does not comply with the European Human Rights Convention.
  • The law of Lithuania should allow for reviewing sentences of people convicted for life and granting parole where the convicted are able to demonstrate that their personalities had changed sufficiently and that they had reached a level of rehabilitation where they would not pose a threat to the public if released and further incarceration would serve no purpose.

[1] Criminal Code, 26 September 2000, No. VIII-1968, Article 76, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter2/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=493995

[2] Criminal Code, 26 September 2000, No. VIII-1968, Articles 77 and 78, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter2/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=493995

[3] 9 July 2013 ECtHR judgment in the case of Vinter and others v the United Kingdom,  application No. 66069/09, 130/10 and 3896/10, http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-122664

[4] ECtHR case of Matiošaitis and 7 other applicants v Lithuania, application No. 22662/13, http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-139980


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