Chamber of Deputies approves new criminal code

An historic moment: that is how Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil described a vote in the lower house on Tuesday approving the country’s new criminal code, which will fully overhaul existing legislation from 1961. Over the last 47 years the existing code was only partially amended but its replacement will see major changes in how crimes are assessed.

The country’s new criminal code was six years in the making and if ultimately approved will bring about a revolution in Czech courtrooms. Under the new code, the age of criminal responsibility will be lowered, from the age of 15 to 14, mirroring legislation in neighbouring EU countries like Austria and Germany. On Tuesday the vote was backed by coalition deputies but also by the opposition Social Democrats, which Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil can chalk up as a success. He said on Tuesday that the new legislation would better protect the interests of all Czech citizens. Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil :

“For me the key matter was toughening the punishment for crimes affecting life and health. Until now the maximum sentence for murder was 15 years, now it will be 20. Grievous bodily harm used to be 10, now it will be 12.”

Extraordinary sentences can even be handed down in particularly brutal cases, sending individuals behind bars for up to 30 years. What’s more, the new code recognises new crimes, not listed before, among them stalking. The code would also provide means of alternative punishment, such as home detention, in cases of softer crimes. And, it differentiates between soft and hard drugs, a proposal that was preceded by years of controversy.

All in all on Tuesday legislators were able to find common ground, with one notable exception: MPs from the Communist Party. They strongly criticised the bill on the grounds it would criminalise the country’s youth – a charge rejected by its proponents. The criminal code will now have to be passed by the Senate and then signed by the president, before coming into effect on January 1, 2010.