Certain commentators have recently doubted whether, as a normative matter, an irreducible life sentence will always breach an offender’s human rights. This article argues that it will. Such commentators ignore the fact that certain punishments are ‘inhuman or degrading’ however proportionate they are, and however much suffering they cause. After noting that there is a clear trend against irreducible life sentences in Europe, the article then contends that a comparison of the relevant European jurisprudence with some recent decisions of the High Court of Australia demonstrates that charters of rights can improve protections for prisoners against laws that objectify and exclude them. The Victorian government’s recent disapplication of its charter for the purposes of legislation that removes the possibility of parole from certain named prisoners, however, also indicates that, if future Australian charters are properly to protect prisoners’ rights, they might have to be designed differently from existing Australian charters.
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