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Letter to Senate’s Speaker addresses amendments to Criminal Code

“The amendments to the Criminal Code that are currently legislated in the Senate of the Republic of Poland are an example of an ill-considered, hasty regulation aimed at achieving a short-term publicity effect, and not a permanent improvement of the law governing the prosecution of persons committing crimes against children. These amendments do not address the essence of the problem, which is disregarding cases of paedophilia and not reporting such cases to law enforcement authorities. Instead, they are a sign of wishful thinking that a mere introduction of a more severe punishment automatically leads to a reduction in the number of offences.

The proposed changes are therefore an example of how politically-driven, or even outright populist, behaviour can be mimicked in the area of criminal law. Characteristic features of such behaviour are concealment of facts, failures to refer to any scientific research that would justify the presented rationale, as well as a substitution of factual debate with an attempt to use catchy slogans to play on people’s emotions. Such use of criminal law is difficult not to be defined otherwise than as an example of penal populism.

I am outraged by the fact that the extremely important problem of sexual exploitation of minors, was used to fast track a very controversial proposal through the Parliament, a proposal that introduces very far-reaching changes to the Criminal Code. These changes will result in the creation of a strict, casuistic and occasionally illogical criminal code.

In particular, human rights organisations have expressed concerns about changes to the penalty of life imprisonment and, above all, the possibility that under the new law a life sentence may be pronounced without the option of parole. The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly pointed out that such a measure is incompatible with the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. From a practical point of view, it will affect the work of Prison Service personnel, who will lose the opportunity to positively influence the behaviour of the convicted person. In the longer term, the amendment will also increase the costs of the penitentiary system, in particular those associated with prison health care.

Such meaningful changes in criminal law should be thoughtful, prudent and consulted with theoreticians and practitioners of law, rather than being hasty and pushed through without any factual discussion. Their basic premises should be developed by the Criminal Law Codification Commission”, reads the letter of HFHR President Danuta Przywara to the Senate’s Speaker Stanisław Karczewski.

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