Webinar "Human Punishment: Life Imprisonment and the Right to Hope"

It is organised by the 'Criminal Law Group' of the European Court of Human Rights in cooperation with the DSG, Liverpool John Moores University, and the 'Beyond Detention Interest Group'.

  • Date: 22 March 2021 from 16:00 to 18:00

  • Event location: ONLINE via the ZOOM platform

  • Access Details: Free admission subject to enrolment

The webinar is the first in the series "Punishment, Detention, Crisis: Academic Judicial Dialogues"
Instructions on how to connect via Zoom will be sent before the start of the event.
For more information, please contact the organisers Dr Paolo Lobba and Dr Triestino Mariniello.



  • Robert Spano - President of the European Court of Human Rights

Introductory Remarks

  • Paolo Lobba - Case Processing Lawyer at ECtHR and Adjunct Professor at the University of Bologna


  • Dirk van Zyl Smit - Emeritus Professor at the University of Nottingham
  • Ksenija Turković - Vice President of the European Court of Human Rights


  • Bernard Harcourt - Professor at the Columbia Law School



According to the European Court of Human Rights, hope is an important and constitutive aspect for every person. Perpetrators of serious crimes still retain the right to hope that they may have atoned for the wrongs they have committed. Since its ruling in the seminal case of Kafkaris v. Cyprus, the Court has established a connection between hope and a prisoner’s “prospect of release”. In Vinter v. the United Kingdom, the Court decided that, as the relevant regime for life sentences did not entail a realistic prospect of release, that form of punishment qualified as inhuman and degrading under Article 3 of the Convention. This principle was upheld in Hutchinson v. the United Kingdom. Recently, in Marcello Viola v. Italy (no. 2), the Court emphasised the importance of rehabilitation as a penological ground that justifies (or must justify?) detention.

Through the lens of the Court’s case-law, speakers will explore key legal questions arising from life imprisonment – and punishment generally – in relation to human rights and penology. In particular, they will investigate, inter alia, the human rights implications of life imprisonment without parole; to what extent a whole life sentence may be compatible with Article 3 of the Convention; the thorny notion of the right to hope; when a life sentence may no longer be justified on legitimate penological grounds; and which type of review of a whole life sentence may suffice in light of the Convention standards.

Webinar Training Series – “Punishment, Detention, Crisis: Academic Judicial Dialogues”

Next events



The criminal law today is pushing its limits. Breaking through new frontiers, it is extending beyond its traditional province, affecting increasingly more facets of individual liberty. As the criminal law flourishes in times of crisis, novel far-reaching provisions are being incorporated into our legal systems. Emergency legislation has thus been normalised. In this context, various questions arise as to the nature, aims and scope of punishment and detention. What makes punishment “human” or “just”? When does a restrictive measure qualify as deprivation of liberty? To what extent, if any, does a pandemic impose additional limits on recourse to detention? Which restraints must remain in place in time of emergency to rein in the broad discretionary powers vested in the police?

This series of webinars offers a forum that brings together leading scholars, judges and practitioners to discuss human rights standards in the area of deprivation of liberty. While the webinars are first of all training events for the Court’s staff, they warmly invite the active participation of the general public. The proposed audience includes scholars, students, and human rights law practitioners.


Director: Ksenija Turković

Organizers: Paolo Lobba and Triestino Mariniello