Letter To The Justice Minister

In Politics on July 7, 2007 by Petr Bokuvka

Justice Minister Jiri Pospisil is a modern politician. One year older than me. A while ago he did something that politicians usually do only two weeks before general elections: he asked normal people what they think.

For this purpose he posted his draft of the Penal Code on the web and asked people to send him comments and suggestions. He has received many so far, some of them unique (if a woman tells a man her newborn child is his, and it is not, she will be charged with class C felony for which she can be imprisoned for a year), some of them less unique.

Truth is the Czech Penal Code suffers from what we might called wrong compassion for wrong people. In other words, in many cases the victim suffers more than the suspect/felon. A punishment must educate, the Czech law tradition says. One of the interesting aspects of the minister’s proposal is that he didn’t include potentially controversial things. He could have included them and waited for reactions. No, he is just waiting for people to suggest them themselves.

OK, here goes:

1. Cumulation of sentence: one plus one does not equal two. Yet. In the Czech courtrooms judges do not count it up. They should. If the sentence for armed robbery is, say, five years, a person who has robbed two gas stations should get ten.

2. Juries: I once interviewed the Prosecutor General of the Czech Republic who told me that the layman-principle would not work in the Czech legal system. Not really true. The society has changed since 1989 and you don’t have to be a Harvard Law graduate for a jury duty. Any jury is better than a solo justice. Had there been the jury system here, the sentences would be altogether different (see below).

3. No jail sentence for uncontemplated crimes: A driver who loses concentration for a split second and injures someone can spend longer time in jail than a robber who attacks a woman in the middle of the night and steals her purse. People who are found guilty of uncontemplated misdemeanor/crime should do community service, have curfews etc.

There have been so many actual rulings and cases lately that the politicians must know that the Penal Code calls for revisions. The minister is trying, but so far he has done only half the work. He should have written 100 pages and cut it down to fifty, rather than writing 50, expecting to add another 50 soon.


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