Tech & Rights

Life Imprisonment in the Netherlands Is at Odds with the ECHR

A Dutch court imposes a thirty-year prison sentence for murder because it finds the practice of life imprisonment in the Netherlands at odds with the Convention on Human Rights.

by Nederlands Juristen Comité voor de Mensenrechten
"According to the court’s judgment, it does not follow from the ECtHR case law that imposing a life imprisonment in the Netherlands necessarily conflicts with Article 3 of the ECHR. However, the court finds that from this case law it may be concluded that the practice of life sentences in the Netherlands is at odds with the demands which follow from the ECHR, because de facto there is hardly any perspective on shortening the imposed life imprisonment. To the court, this was reason not to impose a life imprisonment."

The case of the brothers R.

On November 24, the North-Netherlands Court in Assen issued its decision in the case of the brothers R., who were accused of killing Mr. Smit in the Dwingelderveld National Park in November 2012, and killing Mr. and Mrs. Veenendaal in Exloo in July 2013.

The eldest brother was sentenced to 30 years in prison and subsequent detention in hospital. The youngest was sentenced to 30 year in prison. In the court’s view, manslaughter with robbery of Mr. Smit by the eldest was proven; intent in the death of Mr. Smit wasn’t proven in the case of the younger brother. Both of them were sentenced for the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Veenendaal. They were acting with premeditation when they killed the married couple.

The eldest of the two is considered fully accountable, as he should have - and was capable of - acting in better judgment. The court saw him as the initiator of the crimes; the youngest was judged to be somewhat less accountable.

Maximum temporary imprisonment

The public prosecutor demanded life sentences for both brothers. In the case of the eldest, the court didn't impose this sentence because in Dutch judicial practice, pardons for life prisoners are rare. This makes life imprisonment in truth a life sentence, without any prospect on a future release.

This is at odds with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Hence, the court sentenced the eldest to the maximum temporary imprisonment of 30 years and detention under hospital orders with compulsory treatment for the period following his prison sentence.

Although the younger is less than fully accountable and his role was judged to be smaller than his brother’s, the court also gave him a thirty-year prison sentence. In the court’s judgment, the seriousness of the facts does not allow a milder punishment. No further measure will be imposed upon him.

Read the rulings here and here.

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