Weighing up the “unusual” Swiss justice system

by Clare O’Dea, swissinfo.ch

No other European country sends as few convicted violent criminals to prison as Switzerland. With the penal code due to be reformed, questions are being raised about whether the criminal justice system is serving the country well.

Take a sample case of aggravated bodily assault. On a night out a young man savagely beats up a passer-by in a random attack leaving the victim seriously injured. The case goes to trial, the attacker is convicted, his name is published and he goes to jail. Right? In most countries maybe, but not necessarily in Switzerland.

Under Switzerland’s strict privacy laws, the media are barred from publishing the names of convicted criminals, with few exceptions. In 2010, according to the Federal Statistics Office, just 7.6 per cent of those convicted of assault causing bodily injury were sent to jail. The majority received suspended sentences with fines.

This approach is out of step with most other European countries. According to a comparative European crime study based on 2006 figures, in Switzerland nine per cent of those convicted of assault causing bodily injury received a custodial sentence against a European average of 37 per cent.

These figures come from the European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics but the rate of custodial sentences has fallen further since then in Switzerland following a revision to the penal code which came into force in 2007.

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