THE JUSTICE Ministry continues to face criticism over its plans to reduce the penalties for some crimes.
At first it discussed reducing penalties for young offenders, but now the ministry is proposing sweeping changes to criminal sentences. In several cases, the amended Criminal Code would change the criteria judges use to decide whether to send criminals behind bars.
So far, the changes have not moved beyond draft form. One draft deals with murderers, sexual violence, sexual abuse and torture.
The ministry said on May 28 that the draft in question is no longer valid but that there would be changes to sentencing in cases involving robbery, blackmail and rape.
According to State Secretary Anna Vitteková of the ruling Smer party, the ministry is just trying to correct the current Criminal Code, which has been in effect for about one year. She said the current code puts judges into the role of mere mathematicians who cannot freely decide the duration of sentences.
The changes are intended to give judges more freedom where decision-making is concerned, Vitteková said.
Ex-minister attacks changes
Former justice minister Daniel Lipšic of the opposition Christian Democratic Movement, who prepared the current Criminal Law and Criminal Code, said he is appalled by the ministry's proposal.
"If the draft amendment was prepared by a group of murderers, repeat offenders and paedophiles, it would not look any different," he said.
According to the draft, the penalties for premeditated murder, murder, sexual violence and sexual abuse would be reduced. Lipšic says that security in Slovakia would be threatened if this happens.
Lipšic is also sceptical of the ministry's downplaying the proposals as drafts. He said the Justice Ministry reacted similarly last summer, when it was considering abolishing the Special Court and Special Prosecutor's Office. At the time, justice officials claimed the plan was just a draft, but the ministry later submitted the proposals to the government.
Many judges did not agree with the new Criminal Code when it was introduced last year. One supporter of the proposed changes is Monika Jankovská, the president of the District Court in Trenčín and a member of a national council of the Association of Judges of Slovakia.
She said she thinks the changes are about more than just reducing penalties, and that the existing law is quite limiting.
Pressure to reduce penalties came from the country's lawyers. They are represented in the commission that is preparing changes to the Criminal Code at the ministry.
The ministry has denied that it has succumbed to pressure from the Lawyers' Chamber in drafting the new law.
No more "three strikes" sentencing
Not only would the proposed changes reduce the sentences for crimes, they would also let some offenders get out on parole even earlier.
Until now, people sentenced for especially grave crimes could be released after serving three-quarters of their sentence. The proposed changes could make it possible to release them after they serve only two-thirds of their sentence.
Offenders convicted of murder or rape can currently ask for a conditional release after they serve two-thirds of their sentence. The proposed changes would reduce that to half of their sentence, on top of the reduced sentence for the crime.
The amended Criminal Code would abolish the practice of giving stricter sentences to offenders who have committed multiple crimes.
It would also limit the principle of "Three strikes and you're out." That would only apply to the most serious crimes: multiple murders, terrorism and organized crime.
The Justice Ministry was supposed to submit the proposed Criminal Code amendments to the government in May. However, it concedes that it missed the deadline, blaming the number of comments flooding the expert commission.
Štefan Minárik, head of the Justice Ministry's Criminal Law Department, estimates that the ministry will be able to submit the proposals for comment by the end of July. After that, the government will have to approve it before it goes to parliament.
| What the draft amendment says:
Rape with grave harm
Physical abuse (with grave harm)
| What the ministry has proposed:
| A proposed additional paragraph:
"Someone, who behaves rudely and indecently, verbally or physically, publicly or at a site accessible to public, or who commits a riot especially by
A. insulting another person, defaming
B. disturbing a civic meeting or a sports event
C. provoking public offence by sexual
4. Jun 2007 at 0:00 | Veronika šutková