The Belgian Constitutional Court has recently decided that the much discussed “criminal settlement law” violates the Constitution. This law allowed a suspect to make a settlement with the victims and the prosecutor’s office, after which the criminal prosecution came to an end.
It meant that a suspect with financial means could pay off his prosecution and possible criminal trial, if he would be able to convince the prosecutor to propose a settlement amount. In files with huge damages with the civil parties, prosecutors could be tempted into settling in order to get a guarantee that the victims would receive a compensation without having to go through long criminal proceedings.
The decision would be entirely made by the prosecutor. After the execution of the settlement (all amounts paid), the judge could only notice it and had to confirm the end of the criminal prosecution.
According to the Constitutional Court it is unacceptable that a judge cannot check the settlement, therefore annihilating the law that modified article 216bis of the Code on Criminal Proceedings.
The legislator has to go to work to rewrite the law, which will not be an easy task. Will suspects be willing to accept a settlement and pay large amounts of money if there is a risk that a judge thinks it is not enough and adds a sentence?
It will be a difficult round of balancing for the legislator, unless of course it is decided leave the idea of “settling” a criminal prosecution.