''The European Court has noted that, although the European Convention on Human Rights does not prohibit the imposition of a life sentence on persons convicted of especially serious crimes, in order for the sentence to be compatible with Article 3 of the Convention, it must be reducible de jure and de facto. This means that there must be both a prospect of release for the prisoner and a possibility of review. The basis of such review must extend to assessing whether there are legitimate penological grounds for the continuing incarceration of the prisoner. In this regard, the importance of assessing the progress made by prisoners towards rehabilitation is underlined, since it is here that the emphasis of European penal policy now lies, as reflected in the practice of the contracting States.
Under the Court’s case-law, the criteria and conditions laid down in domestic law that pertain to the review must have a sufficient degree of clarity and certainty. Prisoners who receive a full life sentence are entitled to know from the outset what they must do in order to be considered for release and under what conditions. The Court has noted clear support in the relevant comparative and international materials for an initial review no later than twenty-five years after the imposition of sentence, with periodic reviews thereafter.
The present Thematic Factsheet provides examples of general and individual measures reported by States in the context of the execution of the European Court’s judgments, focusing on the following specific issues relating to life sentences: review mechanisms; conditions of detention; risk of irreducible life sentences in cases of extradition; the right to respect for family life and correspondence; and legal remedies to challenge length of criminal proceedings and lawfulness of detention.''