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Boucherville v. the State of Mauritius

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Court/Judicial body: Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

Citation: Boucherville v. the State of Mauritius [2008] UKPC 37
Date: 9 July 2008
Instrument(s) cited: Abolition of Death Penalty Act 1995 (Mauritius) Criminal Code of Mauritius 1838 Reform Institutions Act 1988 (Mauritius) Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act 2007 (Mauritius) Constitution of Mauritius

Case summary

Background: An adult was sentenced to death for murder. While on death-row, Mauritius enacted a new law abolishing the death penalty and the appellant’s sentence was commuted to a mandatory life imprisonment sentence. The appellant appealed the decision by the COurt of Appeal of Mauritius to the Privy Council. Under the laws of Mauritius, access to parole and remission is only available where sentences are for a specified period of time and are not available to prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment.

Issue and resolution: Mandatory life imprisonment. Whether is is fair to impose a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of release in place of a mandatory death sentence. The Court decided that removing any hope of release violated the appellant’s rights.

Court reasoning: The Court held that any person sentenced to life imprisonment should have a real prospect of release, arguing that a life sentence without any such possibility is not the same as the death penalty. The Court was concerned that no safeguards had been applied to the appellant’s new sentence, such as the possibility of parole or remittance by the country’s Attorney-General, meaning the appellant would have to spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of release. The Court found that the substituted sentence was “disproportionate and arbitrary” and violated the appellant’s constitutional rights. Impact: The decision has been cited by numerous judicial decisions and academic articles to support the idea that life imprisonment without the prospect of release is a violation of fundamental human rights.

Notes: The change in sentence might have been upheld if the appellant had access to parole or the government of Mauritius could have commuted the sentence or decreed release. In a similar case in Cyprus, the European Court of Human Rights approved imposing life imprisonment instead of the death penalty because of the Attorney-General’s power to recommend release and the President’s power to commute sentences or decree release (Kafkaris v Cyprus, Appn no 21906/04, 12 February 2008). For more information on the issue of inhuman sentencing of children, including a selection of case law, please see CRIN’s ‘Inhuman sentencing’ campaign.

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