GOVERNMENT PLANS TO INTRODUCE IMMUNITY FOR INFORMERS GET A MIXED REACTION

Freedom for information: A fair exchange?

THE GOVERNMENT on June 11 gave the go-ahead for the introduction of a system granting immunity to known criminals in return for information that would lead to another prosecution, hoping it will result in a reduction in organised crime.
The proposed amendments to the law on criminal proceedings, which still have to be approved by parliament, will also give prosecutors the power to ask for extraordinarily low punishment for these individuals, known in Slovakia as "crown witnesses".
"The institute of the crown witness is the most effective way of revealing organised crime and corruption," said Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic, explaining the rationale behind the new measure.

THE GOVERNMENT on June 11 gave the go-ahead for the introduction of a system granting immunity to known criminals in return for information that would lead to another prosecution, hoping it will result in a reduction in organised crime.

The proposed amendments to the law on criminal proceedings, which still have to be approved by parliament, will also give prosecutors the power to ask for extraordinarily low punishment for these individuals, known in Slovakia as "crown witnesses".

"The institute of the crown witness is the most effective way of revealing organised crime and corruption," said Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic, explaining the rationale behind the new measure.

"It is difficult to find evidence of organised crime and terrorism from the outside," he added.

People can gain the status of a crown witness only if the deed they help to reveal is more serious than the crimes they themselves committed. If necessary, those collaborating can also be included in a witness-protection programme, which already exists in Slovakia.

"That involves a change of identity, a change of identity for family members, and the person is moved to a different environment," said Lipšic.

Given how small Slovakia is, such witnesses often have to move abroad to be protected sufficiently.

Crime fighters welcomed the proposal to introduce a system of crown witnesses.

"This is our most effective tool in the fight against organised crime," said police vice president Jaroslav Spišiak.

However, not everyone shares the prevailing enthusiasm about the new legislation. Some people are concerned about the fairness of the proposal, and that it might be open to abuse.

"If you are a tell-tale, you are going to spend less [time in prison] than those on whom you tell, even if you don't tell the truth," said Vladimír Mečiar, head of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS).

Ivan Gašparovič, former HZDS MP and currently a professor of criminal law at Bratislava's Comenius University, is also no fan of the idea.

"The expectations the government has are certainly not going to be fulfilled. On the contrary, I think in the future we will perhaps have to rehabilitate people who have been convicted based on the testimony of a crown witness," Gašparovič told The Slovak Spectator.

"I think if our current laws were being observed, both by the people and by law enforcement agencies, there would be no need for a crown witness. It's not about laws, it's about people," Gašparovič said, voicing his vision of how organized crime should be tackled.

However, other experts disagreed with this point of view.

"Experience shows that the current legislation is insufficient. The main reason is a lack of evidence, which does not enable the effective enforcement of law and justice," said Štefan Detvai, head of the Slovak Bar Association.

According to Detvai, it is currently difficult to assess what negatives the new measure may bring.

"It is a new element in the process of investigating and prosecuting criminal activities, which is not very common in central and eastern Europe. Only practice will prove its efficiency. Experience from other countries where this regulation is applied shows that this model works," Detvai said.

Among the countries where similar legislation exists are Italy, the UK, Germany, and the US. A number of proposals coming from the Justice Ministry, among them the already-approved "three strikes and you're out" rule for repeat offenders, seem to be inspired by the US legal system. Justice Minister Lipšic has an LLM degree from Harvard Law School.

"The process of globalisation also influences the legal field. Continental law is getting closer to Anglo-American law. But in my opinion, their harmonisation will be sporadic rather than a general phenomenon, at least in the near future," said Detvai.

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