Francis has introduced changes to the Vatican Criminal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure. The changes reflect “the changed sensitivities of the times” and go beyond “outdated inspirational criteria and functional solutions”.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis today issued “changes in the area of justice” to the Vatican’s penal code, via motu proprio, to include reduced sentences for good behaviour, volunteering, and community service.
The papal document explains that “Needs that have emerged, even recently, in the field of criminal justice, with the consequent repercussions on the activity of those who, in various ways, are interested in it, require constant attention to reshape the current substantive and procedural legislation that, in some respects, suffers from outdated inspirational criteria and functional solutions.”
Following “changed sensitivities of the times”, Francis introduces a series of protective measures, such as the suspension of the procedures in case of legitimate impediment of the accused.
In terms of criminal law, the novelty is represented by a sentence reduction of 45 to 120 days per year of custodial penalty already served by the convicted person who during the execution of the sentence “has had such behaviour as to suggest his repentance and has profitably participated in the treatment and reintegration programme.”
When the penalty becomes enforceable, the convicted person can draw up in agreement with the judge “a treatment and reintegration programme indicating the specific commitments he undertakes in order to cancel or mitigate the consequences of his crime, considering for that purpose compensation for damaged, remedial actions and restitution.”
The convict may propose “performing community work, socially important voluntary activities, as well as actions aimed at promoting, where possible, mediation with the offended person.”
As far as the Code of Criminal Procedure is concerned, the so-called 'trial in absentia' is abolished. The latter was conducted in the absence of the accused, with the decision based on documentation collected without the possibility of witnesses for the defence.
Now, if the accused refuses to attend the hearing without any legitimate impediment, the trial is regularly carried out on the principle that he is represented by his defence counsel. Conversely, if the accused does not appear at the hearing and he cannot appear “for legitimate and serious impediment, i.e. if he cannot provide for his own defence because he is not of sound mind,” the court or the single judge are under the obligation of suspending the hearing.
Another amendment aimed at speeding up judicial proceedings concerns the second and third levels of proceedings. Hitherto, when a case went to the Court of appeal and then to the Court of Cassation, the public prosecutor would be represented by a different magistrate than the one who first prosecuted the case.
The rule now says that “the office of the promoter of justice exercises autonomously and independently, in the three levels of proceedings, the functions of public prosecutor and the others assigned to him by law”. This should speed up proceedings since the same magistrate who prosecuted the case in the lower court would do so in higher courts.
(pictured: Vatican, inauguration of the Judicial Year)