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Tijdschrift Justitiële verkenningen x Jaar 2013 x
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De levenslange vrijheidsstraf internationaal vergeleken

Tijdschrift Justitiële verkenningen, Aflevering 2 2013
Trefwoorden life sentences, whole life imprisonment, human rights, European Court of Human Rights, release prospect
Auteurs D. van Zyl Smit
SamenvattingAuteursinformatie

    Life imprisonment is difficult to define. Sentences that are not called life imprisonment may also be indefinite sentences of detention which may result in the detention of offenders in prison until they die there. Even where a sentence is called ‘life imprisonment’ it may be difficult to ascertain for how long the offender will actually be held and what criteria will be applied to considering his eventual release. This paper sketches some recent developments in respect of indeterminate sentences that are not called life imprisonment, even though they amount to it in practice. It then turns to the question of life sentences that are imposed without provision for any fixed period after which they should be reconsidered. Questions are raised about the extent to which such sentences are acceptable in Europe, the United States and elsewhere, particularly in instances where at sentence there is an indication that the offenders may not be considered for release at all. It is argued that human rights law is moving towards requiring that all persons sentenced to life imprisonment should have a reasonable prospect of release. Given the widespread support for life imprisonment this paper seeks to raise some human rights concerns that arise with the use of this sentence. The concerns are essentially twofold. First, the sentence may be imposed in instances where it would be disproportionate punishment to do so. Secondly, the procedures for its implementation, in particular those that relate to the potential release of persons serving life sentences, may not be adequate to meet the requirement of a realistic prospect of release.


D. van Zyl Smit
Prof. Dirk van Zyl Smit is als hoogleraar vergelijkend internationaal en penitentiair recht verbonden aan de University of Nottingham.
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