Income from the commutation law should flow to a ‘Fund for Justice’, according to the Brussels Attorney General Johan Delmulle. ‘This contributes to faster and more effective justice in criminal cases.’
Judges impose fines on criminals every day. In specific circumstances, especially when it comes to white-collar crime, suspects can also ‘buy off’ their trial. They then pay a fairly substantial sum of money to avoid a criminal case after approval by a judge. Through this extended amicable settlement, the public prosecutor’s office avoids a procedural battle for years, which can turn out to be a fizzle.
The Brussels Attorney General Johan Delmulle proposes to set up a ‘Fund for Justice’ to which a fixed percentage of these amicable settlements and penal fines will flow. ‘The magistracy is often accused of complaining about a lack of personnel and material resources, but of itself offering few ideas where those resources should come from. The solution can be found in that fund’, he says in his speech with which he opened the judicial year today. In the courts of appeal, every year on September 1, the top of the magistracy meets and the attorney generals give an opening speech, a mercurial.
Before taking office as Brussels Attorney General, Delmulle was a federal attorney. He has quite a bit of authority within the Belgian courts. He proposes that 30 percent of the amicable settlements and the fines could go to that fund, causing it to “flow back in a structural way to the federal judicial police, the prosecution and the courts and tribunals.” (…) This is to contribute to faster and more effective justice in criminal cases.’
Over the past five years, the expanded amicable settlements have raised more than four hundred million euros. Last year, 163 settlements were concluded, good for more than sixty million euros. That money goes into the general budget. The total budget of Justice is two billion euros. Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD) wants to add half a billion by 2024 anyway.
The appeal of the Brussels Attorney General is related to the difficult financial circumstances of the police and the judiciary. In the spring, the Public Prosecution Service and the Commissioner General of the Federal Police made it clear that the investigation of serious banditry is on the wane. “Too much has been cut,” said Commissioner General Marc De Mesmaeker. For a year now, the Brussels federal judicial police has no longer been able to handle financial crime files. “We only see fog,” said federal prosecutor Frédéric Van Leeuw. To reinforce their cry for help in parliament, very explicit images of torture from the criminal environment were shown to the MPs.
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In his call, Delmulle makes a comparison with the Road Safety Fund. ‘In order to contribute to better road safety, the police, FPS Mobility and FPS Justice are the beneficiaries of a significant part of the revenue collected from, among other things, the penal fines. Another very recent example is the Maritime and Marine Enforcement Fund.’ That is speckled with the fines and settlements after a violation of the shipping laws. Some of the confiscations, in which criminal money is taken, could also flow directly to the judiciary, Delmulle thinks.
“Setting up such a fund is not so easy,” said Justice Minister Van Quickenborne through his spokesperson. Tracks have been explored in recent months, but without result. ‘The law on such budget funds imposes serious restrictions. The practical elaboration, in which the benefits must be made through multiple agencies, is also very complex.’
In addition to his plea for the ‘Fund for Justice’, the Prosecutor General, responsible for Brussels and Flemish Brabant, also repeated that a solution urgently needs to be found for the prosecutor of the district of Brussels. Since the previous French-speaking prosecutor left there, a Dutch-speaking deputy has taken over his duties, but that is a replacement. The official appointment of the Brussels prosecutor has not yet been forthcoming. ‘We are looking for a solution’, says the Justice cabinet.