A recent story, carried by various media outlets, reported whole-life jail terms without review have been deemed a breach of human rights by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Unsurprisingly, outrage has not been hard to come by. In a guest post on the Archbishop Cranmer blog, Rev’d Dr Peter Mullen seems miffed. Similarly, the BBC reports several UK government ministers are not best pleased. The usual scroll down the Guardian comments section will lead you to several other unhappy customers.
I want to limit myself to the following brief points:
- The ECHR have not ruled that it is inhumane to imprison somebody for the rest of their natural life. They have merely stated that all prisoners should have a right to review with the possibility of release. It does not follow that, upon review, prisoners will be released necessarily.
- The outpouring of anger in response the newspaper headlines seems to rest on the idea that heinous, inhumane crimes revoke one’s right to humane treatment. “Whole-lifers” had such scant regard for the lives of those they attacked that their human rights should be treated with equal disdain, they aver.
- Whilst there may be some debate over the nature of human rights and that which constitutes basic human dignity, scripture is clear that all humans are of inherent worth and value, worthy of respect and require a certain level of dignity by virtue of being made in the image of God
- Scripture nowhere reasons that sin warrants the removal of basic human dignity, inherent by being God’s image bearers (see here for a more full defence of this view).
- Therefore, even the most heinous crimes do not legitimise inhumane treatment. One may wish to argue against the notion that whole-life sentences without review are inhumane – that is certainly a legitimate debate to be had. Equally, there is legitimate debate to be had over what constitutes inhumanity. However, if our argument rests on the idea that inhumane crimes warrant inhumane treatment we may struggle to find biblical warrant for that view.
- Equally, how would we determine which crimes are so heinous they warrant removal of basic human dignity and those which, although sinful and clearly viewed seriously by God, do not warrant such treatment? How far would we be able to move away from self-justification and existential arguments of sins most people commit and those particularly horrendous one’s that are only categorised as such because we don’t tend to do them?