Read posts on this Article
Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides as follows:
(1) No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the criminal offence was committed.
(2) This Article shall not prejudice the trial and punishment of any person for any act or omission which, at the time when it was committed, was criminal according to the general principles of law recognised by civilised norms.
Art.7 is limited to retrospective criminal measures. The Strasbourg Court has not applied it in such a way as to ossify policy in the criminal sphere. In SW v United Kingdom : CR v United Kingdom (1995) 21 EHRR 363 the applicants complained that they had been made retrospectively criminally liable for rape within marriage, since at the time of the commission of their offence, there was still an exception in the criminal law for intercourse in marriage. The Court rejected this argument, saying that the applicants must have anticipated the necessary evolution of the law on marital rape and that it was reasonably foreseeable that they would be prosecuted. The Court found that the concept of lawfulness in Article 7 does not prevent the gradualclarification of the criminal law from case to case, ‘provided that the resultant development is consistent with the essence of the offence and could reasonably be foreseen’.
The Commission has also stated that Art.7 does not require a restrictive reading of the criminal law (Application No.00008710/79 DR 28). States may adopt an extensive interpretation of an offence if this is necessary to adapt it to developments of society, but such an extension must be foreseeable by the citizen: Application No.00013079/87 60 DR 256.