Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu (IRL) wants to introduce mandatory lifetime sentences for repeat homicide perpetrators, daily Eesti Päevaleht wrote on Thursday.
The plan also included increasing the penalties for serial rapists as well as people inflicting serious damage to others’ health, and expelling foreign nationals that committed a crime on a voluntary basis.
The most criticized of the Justice Ministry’s plans has been the push for mandatory life sentences for repeat homicides. Jaan Ginter, professor of criminology at the University of Tartu, said that for this kind of move, the court system would first need to lose its trustworthiness, as such a step would strip judges of their power of assessment.
“At present there is no reason to say that judges cannot be trusted and that their power of assessment should be taken away,” Ginter said. He added that the ministry hadn’t pointed to any information suggesting that this was the case either.
Ginter said that a situation in which the authority of the state needed to restrict the decision-making of the courts could in theory arise when there was reason to think that they were not doing their job in accordance with the law, and judges needed to be replaced.
In such a case, laws might then have to be amended for a certain period of time so that judges wouldn’t be able to make decisions themselves when imposing a punishment. He added that he deemed this kind of situation to be very exceptional.
Ginter also said that even though a second homicide was a serious crime, judges needed to be granted the right to take circumstances into account. If for example in a certain case the killer was a youngster, a lifetime sentence might not be reasonable, as the person may change. The courts typically took this into account when imposing a punishment.
There are currently 41 people serving life sentences in Estonia. It is estimated that if mandatory life sentences were to be introduced, that number would increase by up to ten more convicts every year. The number of people serving short-term sentences would increase by approximately 300 people every year due to making other punishments stricter.
Editor: Dario Cavegn