Hungary has been failing to implement judgments of the European Court of Human Rights that established rights violations with regard to applicants sentenced to whole life imprisonment and life imprisonment with the possibility of a parole. In its recent submission, the HHC demonstrates how the Hungarian authorities had not only failed to carry out the necessary legal changes, but that individual measures that would be required to bring the violations to an end with regard to the applicants are prevented as well.
The HHC has been advocating for the abolishment of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole in Hungary for over a decade, and as part of these efforts, it is monitoring the implementation of related judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. The respective group of judgments will be on the agenda of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (in charge of supervising the execution of the Court’s judgments) in September 2023. The HHC submitted a communication to the Committee of Ministers ahead of the September meeting to show that the judgments remain unimplemented.
The Hungarian law allows for imposing life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (whole life sentence/imprisonment). In 2014, the Court ruled in the László Magyar v. Hungary case that by sentencing an applicant to whole life imprisonment, Hungary violated the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. After the judgment, a “mandatory pardon procedure” was introduced for whole lifers. The Court examined the conformity of the new procedure with the Convention in the T.P. and A.T. v. Hungary case, concluding that it was not persuaded that “the applicants’ life sentences can be regarded as reducible for the purposes of Article 3 of the Convention”, and established the violation of the Convention once again. This assessment was confirmed by further decisions of the Court in Hungarian cases. However, the Hungarian Government has not taken any general measures to date to address the rights violations as pointed out by the judgment handed down in the T.P. and A.T. v. Hungary case and subsequent judgments in this group of cases, and has not amended the respective legal provisions in a way that would prevent similar rights violations. Thus, none of the legal shortcomings identified by the T.P. and A.T. judgment have been addressed, and the decisions of the Committee of Ministers issued regarding the group of cases have not been complied with in terms of the general measures required. The mandatory pardon procedure for whole lifers after serving 40 years continues to violate the Convention. Furthermore, a uniformity decision by Hungary’s apex court also prevents individual measures that would be required to bring the violations to an end with regard to the applicants in the group of cases sentenced to whole life imprisonment, in clear violation of the Court’s judgments.
In the Bancsók and László Magyar (no. 2) v. Hungary case, the Court concluded for the first time in relation to the “simple” life sentence (i.e. life imprisonment with a possibility of parole) that the fact that the minimum term to be served was set for 40 years for both applicants in the case amounted to the violation of their rights under Article 3 of the Convention. This was reiterated in further judgments with respect to applicants in the case of whom the minimum term to be served was set between 30 and 40 years. This shows that the Hungarian rules that allow the minimum term to be served before a detainee can be released on parole to be set for 40 years are incompatible with the Convention. However, the respective legal shortcomings have not been addressed, and the decisions of the Committee of Ministers have not been complied with in any way in this regard either.
The HHC’s full submission is available here:
NGO communication with regard to the execution of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in the László Magyar v. Hungary group of cases (July 2023)