Canada’s supreme court has ruled that life sentences without the chance of parole are both “cruel” and unconstitutional, in a landmark decision that could give more than dozen mass killers who committed “inherently despicable acts” the faint hope of release in the future (article available here).
The Supreme Court ruled that sentencing mass killers, including terrorists, to whole-life sentences is cruel and unusual punishment, just as whipping them would be. It is therefore unlawful under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The court unanimously determined on Friday that sentencing killers to lengthy prison terms with little hope of freedom risked bringing the “administration of justice into disrepute”.
In Canada, those serving a life sentence for first-degree murder are eligible to apply for parole at 25 years. But in 2011, the Conservative government gave justices the ability to hand out consecutive sentences, rather than concurrent blocks of 25 years.
Life without hope of parole “shakes the very foundations of Canadian criminal law,” deprives individuals of autonomy and “is incompatible with human dignity,” the court wrote.
Acknowledging the heinous crimes of those serving multiple life sentences, Chief Justice Richard Wagner wrote that the ruling “must not be seen as devaluing the life” of innocent victims.
“This appeal is not about the value of each human life, but rather about the limits on the state’s power to punish offenders, which, in a society founded on the rule of law, must be exercised in a manner consistent with the Constitution.”
The ruling of the court applies retroactively.