Life without parole breaches children’s rights: UN

In 1988, two NSW teenagers were sentenced to life imprisonment for rape and murder. At the time, they could apply for release after 10 years. However, the NSW Government repeatedly changed the law to ensure they were “cemented in jail and were never to be released”, in the words of then Premier Bob Carr. The Human Rights Law Centre took their case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, making a number of arguments about the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Australia is a signatory. Their three strongest arguments were: First, that “the imposition of a life sentence without the possibility of parole in respect of a juvenile offender is incompatible” with Article 10, paragraph 3, which states: “The penitentiary system shall comprise treatment of prisoners the essential aim of which shall be their reformation and social rehabilitation.” Second, that “the imposition of a life sentence [without parole] on a juvenile constitutes cruel, inhuman and/or degrading punishment” contrary to Article 7. And third, that sentencing the teenagers to an adult sentence without giving them an opportunity to show their rehabilitation was a breach of Article 24, which requires protection of children. The Committee agreed with these arguments at paragraph 7.7. The Australian Government now has 180 days to respond to the Committee’s findings. Daniel Webb of the HRLC argues that response needs to include amendment of the NSW sentencing law.