European Committee for the Prevention of Torture
and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
(CPT)

CPT/Inf(2016)10-part

Situation of life-sentenced prisoners
Extract from the 25th General Report of the CPT,
published in 2016

Preliminary remarks
67.
In the 11th General Report on its activities in 2000, the CPT briefly addressed the issue of
life-sentenced and other long-term prisoners. In particular, it expressed concern that such prisoners
were often not provided with appropriate material conditions, activities and human contact, and that
they were frequently subjected to special restrictions likely to exacerbate the deleterious effects of
their long-term imprisonment. The Committee considers that the time is ripe to review the situation
of life-sentenced prisoners in Europe based upon the experience it has built up on visits over the last
15 years and taking also into consideration developments at the European and universal levels,
notably Recommendation Rec (2003) 23 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on
the management by prison administrations of life sentence and other long-term prisoners.1

Life sentences
68.
For the CPT, a life sentence is an indeterminate sentence imposed by a court in the
immediate aftermath of a conviction for a criminal offence which requires the prisoner to be kept in
prison either for the remainder of his or her natural life or until release by a judicial, quasi-judicial,
executive or administrative process which adjudges the prisoner to no longer present a risk to the
public at large. The minimum period required to be served before a prisoner may first benefit from
conditional release varies from country to country, the lowest being 12 years (e.g. Denmark and
Finland) and 15 years (e.g. Austria, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland) and the highest being 40 years
(e.g. Turkey, in the case of certain multiple crimes). The majority of countries imposing life
sentences have a minimum period of between 20 and 30 years. In the United Kingdom jurisdictions,
the minimum period to be served in prison is determined at the time of sentence by the trial judge;
the law does not provide for an absolute minimum period in this regard. Several other countries
(e.g. Bulgaria, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands and, for certain crimes, Hungary, the Slovak
Republic and Turkey) do not have a system of conditional release in respect of life-sentenced
prisoners, so that life may literally mean life (see also paragraph 73). On the other hand, it is
noteworthy that a number of Council of Europe member states do not have life sentences on the
statute book.2 Instead, for the most serious crimes they have long determinate sentences usually
ranging from 20 to 40 years.

1

See also the European Prison Rules (2006) and the recently revised United Nations Standard Minimum Rules
on the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules - 2015).
2
For example, Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Portugal, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia
and Spain. Further, in practice, life sentences have never been imposed in Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Select target paragraph3