Irreducible Life Sentences: What Difference Have the European Convention on Human Rights and the UK Human Rights Act Made?

Human Rights Law Review, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 541-584, 2016

Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 15/99

42 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2015 Last revised: 18 Sep 2016

Andrew Dyer

The University of Sydney Law School

Date Written: December 13, 2015

Abstract

A comparison between United Kingdom (UK) and Australian law concerning irreducible life sentences indicates that human rights charters and/or other strong human rights guarantees in a jurisdiction can produce improved protections for offenders against penal populism. In a series of challenges to draconian state laws that remove any possibility of parole from ten notorious murderers, the Australian courts steadfastly refused to intervene. Without clear authority to consider such legislation’s effect on human rights, the judges were careful to avoid creating any perception that they were undemocratically overriding Parliament’s will. But while the UK approach to irreducible life sentences is more desirable than that prevailing in Australia – especially concerning child offenders – Vinter v United Kingdom and succeeding events demonstrate that even courts that have explicitly been empowered to resolve human rights controversies possess far from a complete freedom, or ability, to effect change in this emotive area.

Keywords: Irreducible life sentences, torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, Vinter v United Kingdom, Article 3 European Convention on Human Rights, Australia, charters of rights

JEL Classification: K10, K14, K30, K33

Suggested Citation

Dyer, Andrew, Irreducible Life Sentences: What Difference Have the European Convention on Human Rights and the UK Human Rights Act Made? (December 13, 2015). Human Rights Law Review, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 541-584, 2016; Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 15/99. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2703080

Andrew Dyer (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006
Australia

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