Government approves new penal code


The Czech government has approved the draft of a new penal code introducing a number of new penalties and definitions of crimes. It raises the maximum penalty for murder to 20 years in prison and establishes house confinement as a form of alternative punishment. The cabinet will now seek approval for the bill in parliament.

The current code of Czech criminal law containing definitions of crimes and their punishments was adopted in 1961. It has been amended more than 60 times since the fall of communism, and it has been a priority of nearly every Czech government to introduce a new penal code. The previous government headed by Social Democrat Jiri Paroubek submitted their version of the bill for approval in March 2006. But parliament rejected it on the grounds that it decriminalized an economic offence to do with insider trading. On Wednesday, the cabinet of PM Mirek Topolanek approved its draft of the penal code. Justice Minister Jiri Pospisil.

“It is a new bill that defines criminal law. After 40 years, it brings stricter penalties for serious crimes like murder or inflicting grievous bodily harm. It opens up new possibilities of punishing sexual delinquents, psychotics and other offenders who until now could not be sent to prison. They will be placed in special detention institutions from which they won’t be able to escape.”

The draft of the new penal code introduces a maximum penalty of 30 years to life imprisonment for the gravest crimes. Convicted murderers will go to jail for a maximum of 20 years – five years more than now. Lighter offences will be punishable by up to three years in jail, and the code also establishes a new method of alternative punishment – home confinement. Offenders under home confinement will be monitored by means of electronic chips via the global positioning system, or GPS.

One of the changes originally proposed by the Justice Ministry but not approved by the government on Wednesday was lowering the age limit of criminal responsibility. Only persons of 15 years of age and older are currently criminally liable in the Czech Republic. The Justice Ministry proposed the age limit be lowered to the age of 14. Minister Jiri Pospisil again.

“We had a vote on both alternatives; in the end, the age limit of 15 prevailed. This is not of crucial importance in the context of the new penal code. It’s quite possible that this issue will be debated in parliament and we might come back to the original proposal of 14 years. For the Justice Ministry, both proposals are acceptable. This is not a decisive issue as regards the quality of criminal law in the Czech Republic.”

Parliament is expected to debate the draft of the new penal code in January or February next year. Jeronym Tejc, an opposition Social Democrat MP who specializes in legal matters, says the bill’s chances of winning approval in the Chamber of Deputies are considerable because to a great extent it is based on the proposal put forth by the Social Democrat government in 2006.

“We will certainly come up with some minor amendments to the bill. On the other hand, the Czech Republic needs a new penal code. The Social Democrats will certainly act responsibly. We will probably support it although we do have some objections to it and will try to modify it accordingly.”