First new criminal code since 1950s thrown out after meeting resistance across political spectrum

There has been a lot in the news in the last couple of years about proposed changes to the Czech criminal code. There were plans to lower the age of consent and criminal responsibility, the propagation of communism was going to become illegal, and even a suggestion that euthanasia might be allowed. But not now - after over a decade of preparation, the new criminal code has been thrown out the window, after meeting resistance from across the political spectrum.

The current criminal code was written in the 1950. Though obviously it has been amended many times since then, it was regarded as outdated and there was widespread agreement on the need for a new one. Work on the legislation began a full 14 years ago.

It would have radically changed Czech law. The age of criminal responsibility and the age of consent would have dropped to 14 and sentences for particularly violent crimes would have been increased. New crimes would have been introduced, such as human cloning and not aiding the victim of an accident.

But somehow the new legislation managed, in the end, to meet resistance from across the political spectrum. The Communists were against it because it would have made propagating communism a crime, while the Christian Democrats said that it would have led to euthanasia being allowed (by not setting a lower limit for sentencing).

Pavel Nemec,  photo: CTK
However it was the Social Democrats who really scuppered it in the end. They were strongly opposed to a Civic Democrat-sponsored Senate amendment dropping the specific crime of tunnelling (asset stripping) companies. While the Civic Democrats said other laws, such as against fraud, sufficed, legal opinion on the matter was divided and the Social Democrats would not hear of tunnelling being omitted.

As the Senate had vetoed the criminal code, it needed 101 votes in the 200-seat Chamber of Deputies to be approved. But with most Social and Civic Democrats abstaining, and other parties refusing to vote in favour for a number of reasons, in the end a mere 20 MPs raised their hands.

All parties are now saying they will prepare a new criminal code if they are in power after elections in June, suggesting the process could be relatively quick. But Justice Minister Pavel Nemec - in the end one of the code's few supporters - said it was naive to think a new one could be drafted and approved before 2008 or 2009.