European Court of Human Rights: review of the judgment of 13 June 2019 (Section I) in the case of Marcello Viola v. Italy (application no. 77633/16)

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DOI: 10.21128/2226-2059-2020-1-11-16

Keywords: a structural problem; enforcement of the judgments of European Court of Human Rights; inhuman or degrading treatment; inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; life sentence; release on licence; the legal status of persons convicted for mafia-related crimes


In the case of Marcello Viola v. Italy (no.2) the European Court of Human Rights examined the application of Mr. Marcello Viola, an Italian national who was involved in a series of incidents between two rival Mafia clans and is currently detained in Sulmona Prison (Italy). Mr. Viola argued that his life sentence was irreducible and afforded him no prospect of release on licence, while the prison regime was incompatible with the aim of prisoners’ rehabilitation and social reintegration, which constituted a violation of his rights under Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights. A release on licence was conditional on cooperation with the judicial authorities, the permanent severing of ties between the convicted person and Mafia circles and the critical reflection on the criminal past by the convicted individual. The European Court held that, firstly, there were doubts as to the free nature of the choice to cooperate with the authorities, and, secondly, that the refusal to cooperate does not necessarily signify that the convicted individual still poses a threat to the society. Finally, the condition for cooperation requires the court, when considering a request for release on licence, to establish whether all the provisions of such cooperation have been complied with, and not to ascertain how much the convicted person has really improved and whether they still pose a threat to society. The life sentence imposed on Mr.Viola restricted his prospects for release and the possibility of review of his sentence to an excessive degree. Accordingly, his sentence could not be regarded as reducible for the purposes of Article 3 of the Convention which constitutes a violation of the applicant’s rights under this article. In addition, the Court recognized the structural problem in Italian law and indicated that the State should adopt general measures to improve the situation, namely to make amendments to the domestic legislation in order to guarantee that the persons who were convicted to a life-sentence have at least a perspective to freedom and the right to know, what they have to do in order that their request be considered, and on what conditions can the freedom be granted.

Citation: (2020) Evropeyskiy Sud po pravam cheloveka: obzor postanovleniya ot 13 iyunya 2019 goda (Sektsiya I) po delu Marchello Viola (Marcello Viola) protiv Italii (zhaloba No.77633/16) [European Court of Human Rights: review of the judgment of 13 June 2019 (Section I) in the case of Marcello Viola v. Italy (application no.77633/16)]. Mezhdunarodnoe pravosudie, vol.10, no.1, pp.11–16. (In Russian).