ROBIN UTRECHT

Sexual crimes, drugs and digitalisation: the new priorities for justice

Belgium’s new justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Flemish liberal) has set out his policy priorities for the rest of this parliament: combatting sexual violence, an XXL plan to combat drug-trafficking and further digitalisation of the justice process.

Mr Van Quickenborne has the ambition of rewriting the chapter of Belgian criminal law devoted to sexual violence.  “Women are excessively exposed to sexual violence.  Complaints are few as are rape convictions.  The law is outdated.  A sexual offence must be punishable from the minute there is no consent. In future victim support will kick-in immediately in cases of sexual crimes. Such cases will also be treated with priority by the courts. Victims and defendants will also be separated in court buildings”.

The number of care centres for victims of sexual abuse is being increased from 3 to ten to ensure all victims can be cared for. Awareness campaigns will be launched to ensure victim blaming is prevented.

Mr Van Quickenborne also envisages a new plan to tackle the drug problem in Antwerp that he describes as “frightening”.  The authorities intend to clamp down on cocaine trafficking in the ports. Culprits will be banned from working or even being in the port area. Failings of an earlier plan have been identified: they include a lack of direction, co-operation and means.

Mr Van Quickenborne concedes that too often the justice process proceeds too slowly and is outdated.  Of the 23,000 staff at the justice department only 11,200 possess a laptop.  Some of these are a decade old.  A wealth of different and complex systems is employed. The new justice minister’s goal is the complete digitalisation of all dossiers with an electronic police report, digital delivery of judicial documents, an electronic databank containing rulings, video recordings of court sessions, etc.

Digital access to the justice system via Just-on-web is also a goal.  This is a portal that provides one access point for citizens’ and businesses’ interactions with the justice system.  “It will allow you to pay or contest a traffic fine, consult your dossier or receive a verdict in your mailbox” says Mr Van Quickenborne.

Danny Gys

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