Legal action brought against municipal penalties imposed on minors

  • As of January, municipalities will be able to instigate legal proceedings against minors 16 years old and younger.
  • “Wild West justice”, decries the Human Rights League.

The Human Rights League, in partnership with the Kinderrechtencoalitie, has just brought before the Constitutional Court a two-fold action to repeal the municipal administrative penalty law (SAC), which will become effective in 2014.

This text was a target of strong criticism during its ratification and according to some, infringes on some fundamental legal principles that are enumerated in the European Convention on Human Rights, while being inconsistent with the International Convention on Children’s Rights.

As a matter of fact, as of January 1, municipalities will be able to directly penalize detrimental behavior or that which might disturb the public peace. The law lists acts ranging from insults to assault and battery that are punishable by fines that range from €175 (for minors) to €350 (for adults). The more serious offenses will still be dealt with by a police official. No change will occur in that area. Municipality officials, however, or even security company agents appointed by municipal councils, will be able to penalize lesser examples of anti-social behavior.

But where the problems emerge is that from here on in, these municipal administrative penalties can be imposed on 14-year-old minors, whereas prior to this only 16 and 18-year-olds could land in trouble if they were caught with a spray paint can in hand. The League takes this hardened position as the first leg of their legal action.

Old West justice

This downward slide on age limit is an alarming assault on individual freedom,” explains Vanessa De Greef, the vice-president of the Human Rights League. “These administrative penalties are comparable to sentences. In our society, the criminal aspect should be used only as a last resort. Even though we have total confidence in the professionalism of the sanctioning officials, they are not qualified nor do they have enough training to be able to apply the law.” The organization more generally points to a deterioration of the legal protection system for minors.

“This law gives municipalities and officials the power to punish at will in total disproportion to the act. We are simply asking municipalities to solve educational issues.”

According to De Greef, the new law creates unacceptable inequality between minors who receive administrative penalties and those who go through the legal system.

The second action that the Human Rights League is ready to bring is aimed at the ability given to mayors to ban citizens from given areas without any legal oversight. This is, according to the organization, a major limitation to individual liberty.

Allowing mayors to decide by themselves to bar public spaces, and for a month, the person he penalized: that’s Wild West Justice.

LUDIVINE PONCIAU

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