President Caputova Warns Parliament of Ill-conceived Penal Code Changes

President Caputova Warns Parliament of Ill-conceived Penal Code Changes
President Zuzana Caputova addressing Parliament on January 18, 2024 (photo by TASR)

Bratislava, January 18 (TASR) - Ill-conceived and hasty changes to the Penal Code might cause unforeseeable societal damage and interfere irreversibly with the rights of aggrieved parties, President Zuzana Caputova declared in a speech addressed to Parliament on Thursday.

Caputova finds it unprecedented to introduce such extensive and major changes to criminal law without a proper legislative process. She warned that the submitted bill is one of the most significant changes in existing penal policy and will fundamentally change the approach to property-related and economic crimes.

According to Caputova, the government has attempted to defend the fast-track procedure via which the changes are to be passed by pointing to alleged mass trampling of defendants' human rights, as supposedly evidenced by dozens of Constitutional Court decisions. She added that she's familiarised herself with these verdicts, but this argument doesn't hold water.

"According to the decisions submitted to me by the justice minister [Boris Susko], only six decisions of the Constitutional Court since 2020 have concerned the Special Prosecutor's Office," pointed out the head of state. In none of these decisions has the court ruled that the criminal proceedings were unconstitutional. Caputova underlined that none of the six decisions can justify the scrapping of the entire institution.

"The argument of the submitter that the [Special] Prosecutor's Office is to blame partly due to Constitutional Court verdicts concerning [missteps by] courts also doesn't hold water because the responsibility for decisions is always borne by the body that issued the decision," she added.

Caputova rejected the government's claim that there's a need to harmonise criminal sentencing with neighbouring EU countries, pointing to statements by the European Prosecutor's Office according to which the new changes would prevent the imposition of effective, proportionate and deterring criminal sanctions for economic crimes against EU budgeting. "This is because the European Union demands sufficiently deterring punishments for European Fund fraud," she stressed.

The president also touched on coalition claims that the changes are based on an unfinished reform conceived by ex-justice minister Viliam Karas, pointing out that Karas has completely distanced himself from the coalition's bill.

"Because of this, I can see a more honest explanation for the fast-track procedure in a past statement made by the prime minister: 'Politics is about power, and this is a power decision'. We might not agree on what politics should be, but one thing applies to everyone equally: in a democratic society power is limited by laws and the Constitution, and even the election winner must respect them," she said.