Lifelong imprisonment without the possibility of parole was introduced in 1999 into Hungarian criminal law. In the EU at present Hungary and the United Kingdom are the only Member States that allow imposing a so-called “actual life sentence” on perpetrators of serious crimes. Both international and Hungarian human rights organizations have raised serious concerns about this concept, according to which such prisoners, once they are sentenced, are considered a permanent threat to the community and are deprived of any hope of being granted conditional release.
In 2007, the CPT paid an ad hoc visit to the Szeged Prison with the express purpose to examine the detention conditions of “actual lifers”. Quoting the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation on the European Prison Rules and its Recommendation on conditional release, the CPT argued that the law should make conditional release available to all sentenced prisoners, including life-sentenced prisoners. In its report from the 2007 ad hoc visit, the CPT stated that “no one can reasonably argue that all lifers will always remain dangerous to society. Secondly, the detention of persons who have no hope of release poses severe management problems in terms of creating incentives to co-operate and address disruptive behavior, the delivery of personal development programs, the organization of sentence plans and security”. Validating the CPT’s concerns, the Hungarian penitentiary system introduced excessive restraints and restrictions that further deteriorate the situation for actual lifers.
In 2008, the HHC started to organize an international round-table concerning actual life sentence. The round-table was held on 9-10 February 2009 with the participation of 25 experts, practitioners and representatives of the academia and key stakeholders, among them representatives of the Parliamentary parties, the Ministry of Justice and Law Enforcement, the Supreme Court, the National Penitentiary Administration and the Constitutional Court. Presentations were held among others by Professor Renate Kicker, the first vice-president of the CPT and Jörg Kinzig, professor of criminal procedure law at Tubingen University, Faculty of Law. The professional consensus reached at the event was that there is no constitutionally acceptable justification for the sanction and therefore actual life sentence should be abolished from the Hungarian legal system.
The conference was realized with support from the Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe and the Hungarian Civil Fund.