Often no sign of convictions in crime register

There is growing concern about the reliability of Belgium's Central Punishment Register. The register is supposed to list all convictions handed down in this country, but even Justice Minister Annemie Turtelboom (Flemish liberal) recognises that there is a problem.

The register should list all convictions from murders to traffic convictions. Judges and public prosecutors often refer back to the register before they decide on a particular sentence or sentence plea. For them the unreliability of the register is a real problem.

"When somebody appears before a judge we like to know about any form he or she may have" says examining magistrate Karel Van Cauwenberghe.

"Often the suspect tells us he has just come out of prison or was convicted earlier and there is no trace of this in the Central Punishment Register. As a result we miss the objective information that allows us to determine the sentence."

Minister Turtelboom concedes that the register often contains errors and matters that are not clear: "Sometimes it's the perpetrator’s identity, sometimes there are mistakes regarding sentences or the actual facts of the case. The data is entered into the computer manually and sometimes mistakes are made."

Ms Turtelboom promises things will get better. In future a new databank containing all sentences and verdicts will automatically be connected to the register."

"The register will become fully automatic by 2014. That's the next stage."