Belgium approves comprehensive reform of criminal code

The plenary session of the Belgian House of Representatives gave the green light to a comprehensive reform of the criminal code on Thursday evening. It took a commission of criminal law experts eight years to complete the reform, which should go into effect in 2026.

Both Book I and Book II of the Criminal Code, which contain the general provisions of criminal law and the various penal provisions, have been thoroughly rewritten. Some outdated elements have disappeared, others have been adapted to modern standards and greater consistency has been ensured.

For one, the new Criminal Code has eight levels. Level 1 offences are not punishable by imprisonment, while level 8 offences are punishable by life imprisonment.

The reform aims to ensure that imprisonment is only a last resort. The judge must define the objective of the sentence, and imprisonment can only be an option if community service or other measures cannot achieve that objective. The judge is also given more options to impose other punishments.

New offences

The new Criminal Code also introduces a number of new offences. These include ecocide, the large-scale damage or destruction of ecosystems. This was celebrated on Thursday by the environmental organisations Greenpeace and Stop Ecocide Belgium, who called it "a milestone in the recognition of the rights of nature."

Incitement to suicide and intra-family manslaughter are other new additions to the penal code. Crimes such as terrorism, espionage and sexual violence will be punished more severely, while sex work has been removed from the penal code altogether.

The reform was initiated by former Justice minister Koens Geens and continued by his successors Vincent Van Quickenborne and Paul Van Tigchelt. The new code will come into force exactly two years after its publication in the Belgian Official Gazette.


PHOTO: © Thomas COEX / AFP

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