It's being described as a revolution in Czech criminal law. On Wednesday the lower house approved sweeping changes to the criminal code, covering everything from the age of criminal responsibility to the possession of magic mushrooms. There was a stormy debate in parliament over the new code, which must still be approved by the Senate and signed by the president.
The amendment addresses a wide range of legal and social issues, but it's a proposal to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 14 that's grabbing the headlines. Justice Minister Pavel Nemec, who put forward the new code, argues this is crucial in today's society. More and more children under age of 15 are committing serious criminal offences - 1,000 in the first 10 months of this year alone, including several gruesome and highly publicised murders. Mr Nemec argues today's 14-year-olds are just as aware of right and wrong as adults. That might not have been the case 44 years ago, when the present criminal code was drawn up.
However the new criminal code also covers the things 14-year olds can do, as well as the things they can't; if passed, 14 year olds will be able to legally have sexual intercourse, at present the age of consent is 15 years.
The new code would also raise the upper limit for murder from 15 to 20 years in prison and the special sentence for particularly appalling crimes would be increased from 25 to 30 years in prison. There would also be harsher sentences for people who attack paramedics, again after a series of high profile cases. And there would be a lower sentence for euthanasia; the new criminal code would make mercy killing a special offence punishable by a maximum of six years in prison, at the moment it's treated as murder.
There are also a whole range of completely new criminal offences, which, sadly perhaps, reflect today's society; possession of child pornography, prostitution near a school, drink driving, cloning of human beings, wiretapping and even damaging the financial interests of the European Community. As for magic mushrooms, possession of a small number - up to 25 - would no longer be a criminal offence.
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