The day before yesterday, after the session of the national security council, the president of the republic announced new measures against crime and corruption, and the introduction of life imprisonment for the “gravest crimes” in Serbia. This marked perhaps the first time in modern history that amendments to the criminal code were made without any consultation with the expert public, and the first time that the tightening of the penal policy was announced by a holder of a state function who is not authorized to propose such a thing.
The government of the republic of Serbia which, according to Article 123 of the Constitution, is authorized to propose laws to the assembly, remained silent to the proposals made by the family of the tragically murdered Tijana Juric and the tabloid foundation which, in the summer when she was killed, published countless clickbait headlines about her murder. Nevertheless, completely outside of his constitutional authority, the president used the opportunity to announce that the state had accepted this initiative. At the same time, he informed us that Germany practices life imprisonment and wondered why we shouldn’t.
This proposal, supported by 158,460 signatures collected by the daily Blic and the Tijana Juric foundation, foresees the possibility of imposing life imprisonment for “the gravest crimes that result in the death of a child, a minor, or a woman with child”, as well as forbidding parole for people thus imprisoned. With this, Serbia has become one of the countries where criminal sanctions are determined by what the victims ask from the state and what they manage to collect citizens’ signatures for. Following this logic, we could say that we were lucky that someone didn’t collect 158,461 signatures to support the restoration of punishment ad bestias (the sentence of throwing a convicted person to wild animals practiced in ancient Rome), because, if they did, we would be reading about that today, instead of merely life imprisonment.
Another problem with this proposal is that, after a media campaign, 158,460 adult citizens of the republic of Serbia have supported a proposal which contradicts the international obligations of the republic of Serbia regarding the European Convention on human rights. Life sentence is not prohibited by the Convention, but the impossibility of reducing the sentence or paroling a convict is contradictory to provisions from Article 3 of the Convention which guarantees prohibition of torture, inhumane or demeaning treatment or punishment.1 Conditional release prescribed by our criminal code, which can be opposed by the provisions of that same code, is a legal standard of the Council of Europe2 which Serbia has to oblige to. This issue shouldn’t even be discussed in a country which fulfills its obligations.
The president has already responded to potential criticisms regarding these obligations. Whether it was clumsy or deliberate, he told us that experts would now start going to various embassies and talking about human rights, while the criminals would unite as these measures will affect their profit. Still, we don’t need to worry about this: the president told us the state would win, because it is stronger than all of them.
Experts in criminal law and other disciplines relevant for determining penal policy weren’t consulted on this occasion. There was no public debate or any presentation of concrete solutions for the amendments to the criminal code. Not even representatives of the judiciary were consulted, and there is no known analysis of the effects of 40-year prison sentences on the perpetrators of the gravest crimes. All this leads to the conclusion that the announcement of the introduction of life imprisonment is, in fact, another populist move that shows a “firm hand” which solves all problems and, ultimately, establishes order in Serbia. After all, what else are we supposed to think if we know that both Peppa Pig and the hill on Corridor 10 got a better deal than the changes to penal policy in Serbia?
Peppa Pig managed to avoid the addition of a seatbelt, although the minister intended to use this to promote traffic safety. The famous hill on Corridor 10 still remains defiant to the cannons and heavy construction machinery, although the president wanted to remove it, so that we can finally complete the highway. In both cases, experts conducted analyses and advised decision-makers on Peppa’s belt and the demolition of the hill.
The fact that neither experts nor representatives of the judiciary were consulted about the introduction of life imprisonment perfectly illustrates the attitude of the highest government officials to the rule of law.
Germany has rule of law. Why shouldn’t we?
Translated by Marijana Simic
- See, for example, a verdict in Vinter et al vs. United Kingdom, paragraphs 119-122, Grand Jury, subjects no. 6069/09, 130/10 and 3896/10, dated July 9th, 2013
- Recommendation of the Committee of ministers of the Council of Europe Rec (2003) 22 to member states on conditional release, dated September 24th, 2003