Federal home affairs minister Annelies Verlinden (CD&V) intends to intervene in all cases against anyone charged with violence against police officers, to prevent prosecutions being dropped, she told parliament yesterday.
The minister was reacting to reports of several incidents in Brussels in recent days involving violence against police officers, including one where a fake emergency call was made to lure officers into an ambush.
“This has gone too far,” she told MPs. “I am going to present myself as a civil party, and I would ask mayors to do the same.”
The status of civil party in Belgian criminal law allows anyone who has suffered damages from a criminal act to be represented during the criminal investigation and trial, including not only victims and the relatives of victims, but other affected parties such as a company’s shareholders.
And once a civil party signs on to a case, an investigating magistrate is appointed, which makes it doubly difficult for the case to be dropped without good reason.
The federal home affairs minister is in overall charge of the police in Belgium, and local mayors are in charge of the local police. Both, according to Verlinden, can legitimately present themselves as civil party in attacks on police under their jurisdiction.
An attack on a police officer on duty is considered an aggravated assault, but in practice, cases are often dropped by prosecutors for reasons of pressure of work.
In another case in Brussels last weekend, the youths who had attacked three police officers in Ixelles were freed to await trial, leading federal justice minister and former city mayor Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD) to criticise the magistrates responsible.
Jurgen De Landsheer, chief of police of the Brussels-South police zone, called for a no-holds-barred policy.
“Impunity, and the perception of it, has to be wiped out,” he said. “There must be almost zero tolerance for violence against the police, and by extension against any kind of aid.”
“It is completely unacceptable that the police are being attacked,” Verlinden said in parliament in answer to questions from Vlaams Belang and Flemish socialists.
“This has gone too far, and there is no need for a debate about that. I will therefore be a civil party to any criminal proceeding for violence against the police, and I invite mayors to do the same in cases of aggression against local forces.”
Police union SLFP/VSOA welcomed the move.
“As a support measure, this could really count,” said Vincent Houssin of VSOA. “But we particularly hope that the justice minister can keep his word, and that the dismissal of cases of violence against the police will indeed become a thing of the past.”