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Poland’s Sejm adopts criminal law reform introducing tougher penalties

On Thursday, the Sejm, lower house of Poland’s Parliament, adopted a reform of criminal law which tightens penalties for the most serious crimes, introducing so-called “absolute life imprisonment” and confiscation of drunk drivers’ cars. The comprehensive amendment will now go to the Senate, the parliament’s upper house.

229 MPs voted in favour of the amendment, 173 voted against and 39 abstained.

Penalties must be severe enough to effectively deter especially the most dangerous criminals who commit crimes against human life, health and freedom,” said Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, commenting on the matter.

The amendment, among others, raises the upper limit of term imprisonment from 15 to 30 years while eliminating the separate penalty of 25 years in prison. The statute of limitations for the crime of murder was also extended from 30 to 40 years and the so-called absolute life sentence, i.e. life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, was introduced.

Tougher penalties have also been proposed for crimes of a sexual nature and paedophilia. A sentence of five to 30 years in prison or life imprisonment will be imposed for rape with particular cruelty, while rape with serious bodily harm will be punishable by 5 to 30 years in prison or life imprisonment.

The reform was heavily criticised by opposition parties, calling the introduced changes as “repressive” and “not intended to lead to an increase in legal culture, but rather to intimidate and forcibly enforce such, rather than other, behaviours.”

No mercy for drunk drivers

The amendment also provides for, among other things, the confiscation of a vehicle driven by a drunk driver. Car forfeiture is to be applied in cases where the driver has at least 1.5 per mille alcohol content in their blood, if they cause an accident with at least 0.5 per mille or in a recidivist situation.

If the vehicle was not the sole property of the offender, the equivalent value of the vehicle would be forfeited, and this equivalent value would be deemed to be the value set out in the insurance policy or, in the absence of a policy, the average market value corresponding to the value of similar vehicles. If the offender was driving a vehicle which he did not own, but which was owned by his employer, the court would award a surcharge.

The maximum penalty that can be imposed for causing a serious accident will also be increased. For causing serious injury or death, an intoxicated perpetrator of an accident will face up to 16 years imprisonment, up from 12 years at present.

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