Victims and their families have the right to be informed of the release of a convicted criminal, Switzerland’s top court ruled on Thursday.
The Federal Court, which had to decide such a case for the first time, rejected the appeal of a woman convicted of complicity in murder.
She had been sentenced to six years in 2015 for being involved in the murder of her son-in-law. A hit man had killed him in his sleep in his apartment in the Geneva district of Cointrin in 2008.
Last year, the victim’s mother asked local authorities to inform her of a possible release of the victim's wife and mother-in-law. She wanted to avoid any chance encounters.
SAPEM, which is responsible for the implementation of legal measures and sentences, agreed to provide information on possible release or in case of an escape.
The mother-in-law's appeal against this decision had been rejected by the Geneva court.
Right to information
In a decision of principle published on Thursday, the Federal Court recalled that the criminal code confers on the victim and relatives a right to information on how the offender’s sentence is carried out. This right covers in particular the release date or a possible escape. This is refused only if the interests of the convicted person outweigh those of the victims.
In the present case, the judges considered that the idea of a chance encounter was not absurd since the homes of both parties are only a few dozen kilometres apart. The information requested by the victim’s mother will allow her to avoid the vicinity of the appellant’s home when the time comes.
“This is the first judgment handed down by the Federal Court on this provision of the Criminal Code, which entered into force on January 1, 2016,” notes the appellant's lawyer, Robert Assaël, who considers that it is generally a “false good idea”. Because it puts the convicted person at risk of violent retaliation.
Information from the enforcement authorities can also be used by the victim, for example to prevent the perpetrator from finding a job by informing potential employers, the lawyer adds. Finally, this information “in no way prepares the victim for an unexpected encounter: on the alert, the victim may even see his fears increased and his suffering revived”.