During the last few weeks criminal law has been the subject of many talk shows on radio and TV as a result of the release from prison in early February of a certain Mariusz T.
Those who do not follow the Polish media may wonder who this person is. He received the death penalty in 1989 for the rape and murder of four boys.
A few months later after the first democratic elections in Poland the Polish Parliament wanted to make a real change with the totalitarian past and declared a general amnesty.
Those who had previously received the death penalty saw their penalty converted to the highest possible penalty at the time, which turned out to be 25 years and not life imprisonment. This was followed by 20 years of ignoring the fact that certain people who you really do not want walking the streets would have to be released in 2014.
Finally, late last year the Polish government realised they would have a problem and the decision was made to create a law allowing such dangerous people to remain locked up after the end of their penalty, much like the Dutch system of TBS allowing for forced treatment in closed psychiatric wards.
This law immediately received the nickname the Beast Law. Unfortunately the law was prepared in such haste that there are serious doubts about its constitutionality, but worst of all some civil servant forgot to submit the law on time to the Polish Journal of Laws, as a result of which it entered into force on January 21, 2014, not allowing enough time for a proper court decision to be made on whether to apply the law to T. or not.
In what appears to have been a pathetic attempt to save the day, prison guards found some alleged “child pornography” in his cell the day before his scheduled release on 11 February 2014. This was hailed as a great move by some; however, the next day the prosecutor’s office discarded the prison guards’ findings, informing that none of the materials contained any content prohibited by law, and he was released leaving everybody hoping he will not repeat what he did.
One can’t help wonder whether the Polish criminal justice system has its priorities right. While people like T. walk around freely, you can end up in prison for honest mistakes in your tax declaration.
During recent years there have been cases of Polish businessmen being accused of tax fraud and kept on remand for three months (the most common reason for claims against Poland in Strasbourg), during which time their companies went bankrupt, hundreds of people lost their jobs, only to be cleared of all charges by the (working!) court system years later.
I also see an increasing number of foreigners who were in business in Poland sometimes more than ten years ago and are now being prosecuted for not having filed annual accounts.
Of course when you do business in Poland you have to abide by the law, but the time and effort put into these cases simply does not seem appropriate.
Poland also really likes to use European arrest warrants for petty cases. For example, you have a business in Poland and your bookkeeper messes up your social security payments, then you go back to the Netherlands, in the meantime there are allegations raised against you, they can’t find you and the Polish authorities issue a European arrest warrant, so all of a sudden you can’t fly to your vacation house in Marbella anymore for the fear of being arrested.
The moral of the story for those doing business in Poland is, make sure you have your company well organised and do not sign anything you don’t understand.