The ICJ welcomes today’s ruling by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Inés Del Rio Prada, affirming that changes made retroactively to the remission of her sentence violated her rights.
The ICJ, which intervened as third-party in the case, says the judgment reinforces and makes effective the principle of non-retroactivity of criminal law, an essential element of the rule of law.
“This is a highly significant judgment that affirms and strengthens the rule of law in criminal sentencing,” said Róisín Pillay, Director of the ICJ Europe Programme. “Rules and practices that have a significant impact on the calculation and remission of sentences must not be applied retroactively to the detriment of a convicted person.”
“The key principle that the Grand Chamber has upheld today is that the rules that apply to the calculation of the sentence to be served, must be clear and foreseeable under the law at the time of conviction. Subsequent re-interpretation by the courts cannot fundamentally revise the principles that apply to a sentence already handed down. While States have the responsibility for setting sentencing rules for crimes, any changes to those rules which would result in an increased penalty must not applied retroactively in breach of (Article 7 of) the European Convention on Human Rights,” she added.
Inés Del Rio Prada had been convicted of terrorism offences and sentenced to a total of over 3,000 years of imprisonment.
According to Spanish sentencing rules in force at the time, this theoretical sentence was tantamount to an effective sentence of 30 years imprisonment.
While at that time, the benefit of sentence reduction for work performed in prison was applied to the 30-year period, in 2008 the Spanish courts decided to deduct such benefits from the 3,000 years of nominal imprisonment instead, thereby significantly reducing their impact, and leading to a considerably longer sentence in the case of the applicant.
In its judgment, the Grand Chamber held that the application of changes to Spanish sentencing rules as applied to applicant Inés Del Rio Prada had violated the prohibition on retroactive penalties guaranteed in Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
It held that a 2006 decision of the Spanish Supreme Court, which altered the system of calculation of maximum terms of sentences, leading to reduced remission of sentences for work done in prison, constituted a retroactive redefinition of the sentence previously imposed, which could not have been foreseen.
As such, the Court held that Spain had violated its obligations under article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The Court also found that the applicant’s continued detention violated the right to liberty under Article 5(1) ECHR, and required her release at the earliest possible date.
Róisín Pillay, Director, ICJ Europe Programme, t +32 2 734 8446; e-mail : roísín.pillay(a)icj.org