On Thursday, the Polish Sejm passed a draft amendment to the country's Criminal Code. Legal experts, including the Commissioner for Human Rights, have criticized it for being "excessively repressive". Should the new bill become law, it would constitute a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
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229 MPs from the ruling Law and Justice party, far-right United Poland, Kukiz'15, as well as one MP from the Left party, Robert Obaz, voted in favor of the government draft. 173 parliamentarians from the Civic Coalition and the Left party voted against it. 39 MPs abstained.

- Criminal law amendment passed! - tweeted Deputy Minister of Justice Marcin Warchoł immediately after the vote. - Punishment must not only be inevitable. It must be severe to effectively deter people from committing crimes- he added.

The bill will now be passed on to the Senate, where the opposition has a majority.

"The amendment to the Criminal Code just passed takes our criminal law back to communist times. Pure penal populism. These changes do not address real problems. Their purpose is purely political" - Wojciech Górowski, a criminal law expert at the Jagiellonian University, commented.

14-year-olds behind bars

Should the bill become law, it would drastically change Poland’s criminal code. In practice, it would introduce harsher penalties and longer prison terms - including life sentences. The Ministry of Justice, which drafted the bill, has called it a "breakthrough in the fight against crime". -Fundamental changes to the Criminal Code will put an end to the philosophy advocating that even degenerate criminals should only be rehabilitated- the ministry states. 

- We want the penalties to be severe enough to effectively deter especially the most dangerous criminals- said the Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro. - We are proposing an intensification of criminal responsibility in a variety of cases- he added.  

The bill would do away with the separate term of 25 years in prison and expand the basic prison term from 15 to 30 years. This will allow courts to send people behind bars for three decades. The change is accompanied by tougher penalties for a number of crimes, e.g. for murder - in addition to life imprisonment - courts would impose sentences of 10 to 30 years (today it's 8 to 15 years in prison, 25 years or life imprisonment).

Sentencing and penalties for crimes against life and health, sexual assault, or corruption would also increase. Moreover, courts are to rule on the forfeiture of vehicles in case of drunk driving. Among other things, the amended law would also introduce new types of crimes, harsher punishments for repeat offenders, and a change in the provisions of the rules of juvenile criminal responsibility. A 14-year-old is already to be held responsible for murder with particular cruelty, a move opposed by the commissioner for children's rights.

"Disguised death penalty"

- We are introducing the maximum term of life imprisonment, which under certain conditions does not give the convict an opportunity to request parole or to be released earlier- Ziobro said.

This would result in violating the European Convention on Human Rights. The Strasbourg Court has ruled in more than a dozen cases that absolute life imprisonment (without even the hypothetical possibility of release) is inhumane treatment and punishment prohibited by the convention. Ziobro wants to ensure that courts can impose such a punishment if, among other things, the nature of the act and the perpetrator's characteristics indicate that the person will continue to be a threat after being released.

-The proposed regulations are in fact a disguised death penalty, which is simply unacceptable in civilized countries - Iustitia's criminal law team wrote in its opinion on the draft. It summarized the entire draft as follows: "It is an expression of a primitive and instrumental approach to criminal law, which refers to the idea of justice based on the principle of simple retaliation".

The commissioner for human rights found the draft bill to be excessively repressive. Legal experts point out that it is not justified either by the level of crime, which has been declining for several years, or by the assessment of the level of security in Poland (86% of respondents feel safe). 

Up to 30 years in prison for petty theft

- This is a play on emotions to improve the political position of Minister Zbigniew Ziobro- states Mikołaj Malecki, Ph.D., a criminal law expert at the Jagiellonian University, who enumerates the absurdities found in the new bill.

For example, the courts are supposed to order the forfeiture of the vehicle belonging to a person driving under the influence of drugs, but in order to take away the car of a drunk driver, he or she must have a blood alcohol content of more than 1.5 ‰. And the severity of punishment will not be proportional to the committed crime but will depend on the value of the car.

"For petty shoplifting, a harmless thief will face, according to Mr. Ziobro's concept, a total punishment of 30 years in prison. It will be enough to impose small prison sentences on him for individual acts, which, when added together, will result in 30 years of imprisonment" – Mr. Małecki analyzes.

"And the perpetrator hiding his knowledge of child abuse is to face only three years in prison. For this crime, the punishment will not increase. Here is an example of the hypocrisy and absurdities that the enactment of this legislation will lead to" - he adds.

"What matters is not the severity of the punishment and putting people behind bars, but the effective detection of crimes and the inevitability of punishment. The current 1997 Criminal Code, criticized for being supposedly too liberal, has in practice led to a decline in crime, especially violent crime. Meanwhile, ruling camp politicians live in their own world. They try to scare us with imaginary threats, distracting us from the billions in EU money we are losing because of the inflation and Mr. Ziobro's desperate attempts to stay in power" - the lawyer concludes.

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