The Serbian parliament has adopted changes and supplements to the Criminal Code, introducing life imprisonment without parole for rapists and murderers of children, pregnant women and defenseless persons. Experts warn that a portion of the law is contrary to the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
These amendments are within the initiative of the Tijana Juric Foundation, signed by 160,000 citizens.
The foundation was founded by the father of a 15-year-old girl murdered in 2014. Her murderer was caught and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Under the amendments, a prison sentence of between 30 and 40 years is replaced with imprisonment for life for the most aggravated crimes. A convict sentenced to life in prison may be paroled after serving 27 years, but this does not apply to rapists and murderers of children, pregnant women and the defenseless.
The same sentence shall be applied to the murder of representatives of top public authorities, severe crimes against the constitutional order and security of Serbia, the association of persons to commit criminal offenses, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes against civilians, wounded persons and persons who are ill, and terrorism.
The amendments also introduced more severe penalties for habitual criminals, molesting and torture, domestic violence, tax evasion, killing and torturing animals, assaults on public officials, and violence at sporting events.
Under the amendments, a new criminal offense is introduced - assault on lawyers, in line with a request put forward by the Bar Association.
Minister of Justice Nela Kuburović said the introduction of life imprisonment was a rational rather than an emotional act, which had been preceded, aside from the Tijana Juric Foundation's petition, by an analysis conducted by a working group comprising renowned experts.
However, legal experts in Serbia, an EU candidate country which abolished the death penalty in 2006, are convinced that these amendments to the Criminal Code will not be received well in Brussels.
A portion of the opposition which is boycotting the parliament did not vote for so-called Tijana's law, although they did support life imprisonment for murderers of children, and rapists.
The law's critics, the experts or opposition representatives, say that the introduction of life imprisonment arrived on a wave of populism, so the authorities could score political points, while others point out that in this way Serbia is moving away from the EU, which it aims to join.
Some think the authorities took advantage of the situation to add life imprisonment for severe offenses against the constitutional order and security of Serbia to the law, as well as that the law will not help to prevent crimes from being committed.
Numerous European countries have life imprisonment, but most also provide the possibility of parole.
The Council of Europe also spoke out, back when the law was still under review by MPs. CE Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović, in a letter to the justice minister, urged the Serbian authorities to reconsider the introduction of life imprisonment without parole for the most severe existing criminal offenses.
Mijatović said that life imprisonment, in order to be in line with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights - which is binding for Serbia - must include the possibility of reduction, in other words there must be the prospect of a prisoner's release and the possibility of reviewing the sentence, reads the letter.
The Serbian authorities should ensure that this or any other legal initiative of the kind is completely in accordance with the judicial practice of the European Court of Human Rights, the commissioner said in her letter.
On the same day when law was passed (May 21), a report on alternative sanctions came in from the Council of Europe, which pointed out that Serbia was conspicuously behind the European average in that regard.
At the end of January 2018, Serbia's probation population rate was 24.4 probationers per 100,000 inhabitants, which is remarkably lower than the European median (169), that is the lowest among 47 member countries of the Council of Europe (CE) surveyed, according to a CE report on alternative sanctions in Europe.
At the same time, Serbia’s prison population rate of 154 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants is much higher than the European median indicator of 102.5 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the report.
By the end of January 2018, a total of 1,810,357 people in Europe were under the supervision of probation agencies, or an overall probation population rate of 169 probationers per 100,000 inhabitants.
On January 31, 2018, the total number of persons under the supervision of probation agencies in Serbia was 1,707. Out of that number, 81 were doing community service, 429 were under electronic monitoring, while 653 were under house arrest, according to the report.