Bronson Blessington and Matthew Elliot v. Australia
OHCHR – Human Rights Committee
Communication No. 1968/2010
22 October 2014
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: articles 7 (freedom from torture), 10, paragraph 3 (reformation and social rehabilitation of prisoners), 15, paragraph 1 (right to a fair trial), and 24, paragraph 1 (special protection of children).
Convention on the rights of the child: article 37 (a).
Bronson Blessington and Matthew Elliot, the authors of the communication, were nationals of Australia serving sentences of life imprisonment for assault, murder, abduction and rape. They were aged 14 and 15 when the facts happened in September 1988 and they were sentenced for these crimes in 1990. They claimed to be victims of violations by Australia of articles 7 (freedom from torture), 10, paragraph 3 (reformation and social rehabilitation of prisoners), 15, paragraph 1 (right to a fair trial), and 24, paragraph 1 (special protection of children) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (The Covenant).
Blessington and Elliot claimed that their rights under the Covenant were violated, as the imposition of a life sentence on a juvenile constitutes cruel, inhuman and/or degrading punishment and that due to changes in the legislation applicable to them, they were not in a position to obtain a real possibility of release on parole. They further claimed that their life sentence was incompatible with the requirements under article 10, paragraph 3, of the Covenant, which sets reformation and social rehabilitation as the essential aims of the penitentiary system, and that juvenile offenders should be accorded treatment appropriate to their age and legal status. The authors finally claimed that the imposition of a life sentence without possibility of parole for crimes they committed as juveniles was incompatible with the obligations of the State party under article 24, paragraph 1, of the Covenant which prescribes States to take appropriate measures of protection as are required by their status of minor.
The Committee considered in its views that the imposition of life sentences on the authors as juveniles can only be compatible with article 7, read together with articles 10, paragraph 3, and 24 of the Covenant if there is a possibility of review and a prospect of release, notwithstanding the gravity of the crime they committed and the circumstances around it. The Committee noted that the review procedure in the case of the authors was subjected, through various amendments of the relevant legislation, to such restrictive conditions that the prospect of release seemed extremely remote.
The Committee recalled its general Comment 21 indicating that no penitentiary system should be only retributory and that it should essentially seek the reformation and social rehabilitation of the prisoner. The Committee stressed that this principle had particular force in connection to juveniles. The Committee also referred to article 37 (a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates that neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age. Explaining that the CRC was a valuable source informing the interpretation of the Covenant in the present case, the Committee was of the view that the life sentences, as currently applied to the authors, did not meet the obligations of the State party under article 7, read together with articles 10, paragraph 3, and 24 of the Covenant. In reaching that decision, the Committee took in consideration the lengthy period prescribed before the authors were entitled to apply for release on parole, the restrictive conditions imposed by the law to obtain such release and the fact that the authors were minors at the time they committed their crimes.
The Human Rights Committee acting under article 5, paragraph 4, of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant, concluded that the State party had violated the authors’ rights under articles 7, 10, paragraph 3, and 24 of the Covenant.
Having reached that conclusion the Committee decided not to examine the remaining claim under article 15, paragraph 1 of the Covenant.
The Committee urged Australia to review its legislation to ensure its conformity with the requirements of article 7, read together with articles10, paragraph 3, and 24 of the Covenant without delay, and to allow the authors to benefit from the reviewed legislation. It also asked the State party to provide an effective remedy to the authors, according to the article 2 of the Optional Protocol.
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