JUSTICE Ministry proposes life without parole for repeat offenders
According to Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) member of parliament Vladimír Palko, who proposed the amendment, the life sentence without parole should be used "in extremely serious cases and in repeat offender cases where the possibility of improving the offender's behaviour is practically nil and where effective protection of society from the offender is required."
Under existing laws, people sentenced to life can be released after they have served 25 years in jail. Most murders, however, draw 10 to 15-year sentences.
Palko said that the 'three strikes' system was part of the penal codes of 30 US states, while Great Britain used an even tougher 'two strikes' measure.
Daniel Lipšic, head of the Justice Ministry office and a KDH member, said at a press conference on March 12 that the ministry supported the proposal because "repeat offenders commit the majority of crimes".
Lipšic added that some developed western countries had given up trying to re-educate violent criminals, and were concentrating instead on "protecting society from serious criminals."
The three strikes system would apply to murderers, rapists, thieves and other criminals considered dangerous by the state. Palko said that the three strikes system, were it in effect today, would apply to the cases of 284 current or former convicts.
The majority of these people, Palko said, "are in jail at the moment, or have been in jail for most of their criminal careers".
Interior Minister Ivan Šimko said in his regular Report on Security in the Slovak Republic in 2001 that first time criminals, most of them between 18 to 30 year of age, committed 74.6 per cent of all crimes in 2001, with the majority of offenses being violent and property-related crimes.
Lipšic said he hoped the three strikes system would serve as a warning to the younger criminals. "I believe that the revision will find support at least among the ruling coalition parties," he added.
According to research by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) think tank, while the overall number of crimes committed in Slovakia fell from over 146,000 in 1993 to under 89,000 in 2000, violent crimes were up almost 50 per cent over the same period to 13,459.
Deputy Prime Minister for Legislation Ľubomír Fogaš agreed that the penal code revision was an important measure, but said that the judiciary faced a bigger problem than inadequate sentences: the slowness of the court system.
Unless the courts speeded up their work, he said, it made little differences what penalties awaited convicts.
"There's not a good atmosphere in the Slovak judiciary," he said during a March 17 talk show on the public broadcaster STV.
"There are many cases pending in the courts. Judges must realise that if they want to act as stabilisers of democracy in this country, we can't have any of them taking over a year even to set a date of proceeding. That's not just a flagrant breach of judicial ethics but punishable behaviour in itself," said Fogaš.
Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský, who recently asked regional chief justices to regularly submit to him a report on the work output of individual judges, said that there was little he could do to force judges be more effective.
"I can't tell a judge to take this case and rule on it tomorrow," said Čarnogurský.
He added that one judge who for 12 months failed to initiate proceedings in four of her cases is now facing disciplinary proceedings in front of a panel of senior judges at the Supreme Court.
"The problem is that so far the Supreme Court panel has never handed down any strict verdicts against judges in disciplinary proceedings," added Čarnogurský.