The ECHR judgment of 23 May 2017 in Matiosaitis and Others v. Lithuania (applications N 22662/13 and others).
In 2013, the applicants were assisted in the preparation of applications. Subsequently, the applications were combined and communicated to Lithuania.
The case successfully considered complaints about the appointment of the applicants in the form of life imprisonment, which does not provide for a real prospect of their release. There has been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
Six of the applicants, whose complaints were found admissible for consideration on the merits, are serving life imprisonment. In their appeals to the European Court, they complained under Article 3 of the Convention that their sentences could not be mitigated de jure or de facto.
ISSUES OF LAW
The Court had to consider whether the sanctions applied to the applicants should be qualified as non-liable, or whether they had a prospect of release.
(a) Early release, mitigation due to incurable disease, amnesty and retraining of sentence. None of these measures provided a real prospect of liberation. In accordance with the legislation of Lithuania, only prisoners serving a fixed term can be released, and not life imprisonment. For his part, as the Court has consistently pointed out, the easing of life imprisonment in connection with an incurable disease can not be considered as a "prospect of liberation". Similarly, amnesty under the laws of Lithuania can not be considered a measure that provides prisoners with a life sentence of a prospect of mitigating their punishment or release. All the previous amnesties proclaimed by the Sejm were not applied to persons deprived of their liberty for particularly grave crimes, and three amnesties explicitly excluded life imprisoned from the circle of their actions. In addition, as an act of general rather than individual application of the amnesty, it seems that the rehabilitation aspect of each particular prisoner is not taken into account. As the Court pointed out in earlier cases, the review of the sentence that condemns a lifetime should allow the authorities to assess any changes in a life-sentenced prisoner and any progress with regard to rehabilitation. Finally, although article 3 of the new Penal Code allows for the re-qualification of life sentences and mitigation until a certain period, this was an atypical phenomenon, all eligible applicants had already submitted applications unsuccessfully in accordance with this provision.
(b) Presidential pardon. Lifetime prisoners have acquired the right to seek pardon for a period substantially less than the 25-year maximum that the European Court found acceptable in the case of Winter and others and the Murray case. This procedure was transparent and accessible, including a number of criteria that allowed the president, on the basis of the opinion of the pardon commission, to assess whether the continuation of the imprisonment of a life imprisoned was justified by justified pseudo-legal grounds. However, the presidential pardon could not be regarded as making life sentences softened de facto. First, neither the pardoning commission nor the president were obliged to give reasons for refusing pardon. Secondly, decrees on presidential pardons were not subject to judicial review and could not be challenged directly by prisoners. Thirdly, the work of the pardon commission was not open, and its recommendations were not legally binding for the president. As a result, the presidential pardon authority in Lithuania was the modern equivalent of the royal prerogative of mercy based on the principle of humanism, and not a mechanism that has adequate procedural safeguards to verify the situation of prisoners, which would allow them to adjust their life sentences. In addition, the conditions for keeping life-long inmates did not contribute to their rehabilitation: although in Lukiškės prison, where lifelong prisoners must serve their first 10 years of imprisonment, a number of social rehabilitation programs were organized, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment CPT) reported that prisoners were held 22.5 hours a day in their cells and were in isolation of a small group almost in the absence of the possibility of relations with detainees from the other cameras.
In order to ensure proper consideration of changes and progress with regard to rehabilitation achieved for life imprisoned persons, the review of life sentence should entail either bringing the motives to the executive branch or judicial review in such a way that even the appearance of arbitrariness could be ruled out. The presidential pardon in Lithuania de facto did not allow life-long inmates to know what they should do in order to consider their release and under what conditions, moreover, there was no judicial review of their detention. Accordingly, the applicants' life sentences could not be considered mitigated for the purposes of Article 3 of the Convention.
The violation of the requirements of Article 3 of the Convention (unanimously) was committed in the case.
In the application of Article 41 of the Convention. The establishment of a fact of a violation in itself constitutes sufficient fair compensation for moral damage.