Criminal courts authorised to impose stiffer sentences for multiple offences

The criminal courts are to be given the power to impose stiffer sentences on defendants tried for multiple offences in a single case. The aim is to tighten the rules on concurrence of offences and tackle career criminals more effectively. Minister of Security and Justice Ivo Opstelten proposed a bill to this effect, which has been approved by the cabinet. The basis for the bill can be found in the coalition agreement.

If a defendant is tried and convicted of multiple offences, the court imposes a single penalty for all of them. This penalty is subject to a statutory maximum - the court ascertains which of the offences in question carries the highest maximum penalty and, as the law now stands, can raise that maximum penalty by a third. Under the new rules, the court will be able to raise it by a half. The cabinet wants greater weight to be accorded to the fact that multiple offences have been committed and ensure that this is reflected in a higher maximum penalty.

A higher maximum penalty is particularly desirable where offences are not tried simultaneously, i.e. when, after being convicted of one or more other offences, a defendant is tried for another serious offence committed before the previous convictions. Under the existing rules the court is required to take all previous convictions into account, thereby limiting the penalty it can and might wish to impose. The bill solves this problem by raising the maximum penalty and by limiting the deduction from the potential maximum penalty: only the penalty imposed for the first conviction following the offence in question needs to be taken into consideration. This will give the court greater scope to impose an appropriate penalty.  

The potentially undesirable effects of the current rules were illustrated by a judgment of Amsterdam District Court of October 2011, in which the court decided not to apply the rules on the concurrence of offences because they would have left insufficient scope for an appropriate penalty. As a result, the court was able to sentence a person convicted of serious sex offences to ten years in prison, considerably longer than if it had applied the law as it stands. The bill takes the same approach.

The cabinet has decided to send the bill to the Council of State, requesting an advisory opinion. The text of the bill and the Council of State's advisory opinion will be published when they are submitted to the House of Representatives.