What is immediately obvious from reviewing the justice systems of the European Union (EU), is that life imprisonment of children is now restricted to a small number of States, but that a substantial number of children are affected by such sentences. Within three States - Cyprus, France, and the United Kingdom (including England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) - life imprisonment remains clearly lawful for children.
In 22 States, life imprisonment has now been explicitly abolished for children. While certainly something to celebrate, this statistic masks the extremely long maximum sentences that remain legal for crimes committed while under the age of 18 and the disparity in sentencing across Europe.
This report reviews the laws and practices of the States within the EU with regards to life imprisonment of children; that is all persons under 18 years of age. Where official information is available on how many children are affected by the relevant sentences, this has been included, and where government figures are not maintained, this too is highlighted. For the purposes of this report, “life imprisonment” has been defined to include a variety of types of sentence under which it is possible for a person to be legally detained for the rest of his or her natural life for an offence committed whilst under the age of 18 years.