Penalty orders issued by public prosecutors now integral part of criminal justice system
For common offences such as drink-driving, shoplifting, vandalism and breach of the peace, penalty orders issued by public prosecutors are a satisfactory means of imposing a penalty. Since 2008, the Public Prosecution Service (Openbaar Ministerie, OM) has been able to settle cases out of court by issuing penalty orders. The present implementation stage is yet to be completed and the OM is still fine-tuning the procedure. However, the evaluation of the Public Prosecution Service (Settlement) Act (Wet OM-afdoening) shows that penalty orders issued by public prosecutors are now an integral part of law enforcement. A penalty order issued by a public prosecutor, involving an out-of-court procedure, represents an improved legal framework for suspects compared with a fixed penalty.
This outcome was expressed in a letter sent by Minister of Justice and Security Ferdinand Grapperhaus to the Dutch House of Representatives in response to the evaluation of the Public Prosecution Service (Settlement) Act. In the years following that Act’s entry into effect in 2008, penalty orders issued by public prosecutors were gradually implemented as a means of settling cases out of court. That implementation stage is yet to be completed and expectations are that it will run until 2021. The Public Prosecution Service is still fine-tuning the procedure.
For instance, it announced recently that amendments to the Penalty Order issued by a Public Prosecutor Instructions will enter into effect as from 1 January 2019. This change will result in public prosecutors taking greater account of the penalty that a judge would impose when determining a punishment. Furthermore, the Public Prosecution Service has launched the internal Prosecution OM2020 Quality Programme, in the course of which the organisation will examine itself critically and make improvements.
The Procurator General at the Supreme Court supervises the Public Prosecution Service and monitors its practical implementation of out-of-court settlement of criminal cases with a critical eye. It is clear from the Procurator General’s reports that the Public Prosecution Service put great effort and energy into improving the procedure in recent years. As the supervising Procurator General at the Supreme Court noted in 2017, progress was made on proof of guilt, the quality of case files and processing times during the past few years.
In the opinion of those evaluating out-of-court settlements offered by the Public Prosecution Service, penalty orders issued by public prosecutors contribute to the principal objectives on which the Public Prosecution Service (Settlement) Act was based. Not only do they enable efficiency improvements to be made by relieving the judicial system of so-called bulk cases, they also provide a firmer legal basis compared with fixed penalties thanks to the obligation to hear suspects and to offer them legal assistance before a penalty order is issued by the Public Prosecution Service. Suspects who disagree with penalties imposed on them may lodge objections free of charge. The entire case will then be assessed by a criminal court. As for concerns that penalties will be issued without just cause, it turns out that penalty orders issued by public prosecutors are no more likely to be the subject of an objection than court judgments are to an appeal.