Increase in number of people 'asking King for mercy' through royal pardons

Increase in number of people 'asking King for mercy' through royal pardons
Belgium's King Philippe. Credit: Belga

More and more people living in Belgium have been seeking royal pardons, mainly for fines, largely as a result of it now being possible to send in such applications by email.

Belgium's King Philippe can issue pardons for final court judgements, or "give someone mercy." He can postpone the execution of (part of) a penalty, lighten it or grant a probationary period. However, pardons have no effect on criminal records.

In practice, the applications mainly concern three types of sentences (still to be served or already being served), including prison sentences, fines and driving disqualifications.

In 2016, 663 requests were sent, while in 2020, this figure had risen to 1,015. The peak was reached in 2019, when 1,232 people asked for a pardon,  according to recently published FPS Justice figures.

However, the number of favourable responses is not following the same trend, as, since 2016, this figure fluctuated from three to six, then increased to 13 in 2018, back to seven and finally slumped to two in 2020.

This is because the criteria for pardons are very strict. Requests are treated individually by the Pardons Department, which first examines the admissibility of the application, taking into account past criminal records, a person's family or personal situation, and their behaviour after conviction, among others.

In the case of applications that pass this round, the pardons department obtains the opinions of the various authorities concerned. It then submits the file, with its opinion, to the Justice Minister, and only once all these stages have been completed will the application be sent to the King.

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