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Brussels prosecutor's office wants local authorities to punish more offences
Faced with staff shortages, the Brussels public prosecutor’s office, responsible for investigating and charging crimes in the Brussels region, wants to hand over the task of punishing more offences to the 19 communes in the capital.
In the course of 2023, the office’s staff was reduced from 119 to 95, with many employees on prolonged sick leave.
Meanwhile, in the past five years, the number of criminal cases closed without prosecution has more than doubled - an increase of 157%.
The aim of the new initiative is therefore to ensure that crimes not followed up will still be punished, through administrative sanctions handed out by communes.
The additional offences punishable by local authorities have been set out in a new protocol agreement proposed by the acting public prosecutor Tim De Wolf, in line with the 2013 law on municipal administrative sanctions (called SAC in French, GAS in Dutch). This law allows municipalities to punish around 15 criminal offences.
The draft text, still being negotiated, will include more crimes, for example allowing local councils to deal with assault and battery cases without aggravating circumstances. Offences involving domestic violence however must still be dealt with by the public prosecutor.
Thefts of any amount, instead of, since 2013, only up to €250, can also be punished by local communes, the office said.
In addition, anyone destroying or disabling a vehicle with the intent to cause harm can also be prosecuted by local authorities under the new proposal. Any case involving police vehicles or public transport, however, will need to go to the Brussels’ prosecutors’ office.
But the plan is far from gaining unanimous approval. Sanctioning officials say it is not only a question of an increased workload, but also that they are not as well equipped as the public prosecutors’ office to deal with violence.
Notably, commune staff do not have the power to interview witnesses or ask for additional investigations. In addition, the punishments – on a fixed scale ranging up to €350 – are low for cases involving physical violence.
Brussels mayor Philippe Close said he supported giving more power to local communes, but that the prosecutor’s office needed more staff.
“I am asking for the possibility of administrative sanctions to be increased in collaboration with the public prosecutor’s office,” he said.
“But the fight against impunity must also involve a framework filled by the Brussels public prosecutor’s office. The safety of our fellow citizens is at stake.”