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Too Many Unnecessary Cases: The Justice System is Drowning in a Sea of Paperwork

The Swiss judicial system is reportedly on the brink of collapse. An increasing number of cases is slowing down the processing of legal matters, causing significant issues. Whereas a few years ago, the prosecution and defense maintained completely opposing positions, they are now showing signs of coming together to prevent the system from collapsing.

The Case – Among the many cases under scrutiny is a dispute over eight tulips valued at 20 francs, which ended up in court. For over two years, two women from Fribourg fought a legal battle because one of them had cut eight tulips from a vase. This incident led the police to question the accused. Three unsuccessful mediations followed, attempting to resolve the dispute out of court. Ultimately, the prosecutor wanted to dismiss the case, but the court disagreed, forcing the prosecutor to reopen it. The accused was finally fined 100 francs for theft, and fortunately, no appeal was filed.

Numbers – It is partly due to cases like this that the Swiss judicial system is struggling. Last autumn, a study by Tages Anzeiger revealed that over 100,000 cases are open, with overworked prosecutors on the brink of burnout. Now, the parties, who have accused each other for years of being responsible for lengthy proceedings, are changing their approach. A conference was held last Wednesday to discuss the problems and potential solutions.

Example – Fribourg’s Attorney General, Fabien Gasser, used examples like the tulip case to illustrate the stakes. Often, even trivial incidents are forced to go to court. “We work with the frustrating feeling that the energy spent on these cases could have been better used elsewhere,” Gasser said. Another issue is the so-called obligation to report. Under this principle, police officers or administrative authorities must report all crimes they discover in the course of their official duties, and according to Gasser, the Federal Court interprets this principle very strictly.

Comment – “I believe it is partly our fault,” said Laura Jetzer, a Zurich lawyer specializing in criminal law, citing a case of her client “accused of stealing a mobile phone. To resolve the case, the authorities wanted to analyze the phone and conduct numerous interrogations, putting the man in custody. All for an old iPhone worth less than 300 francs,” Jetzer explained, adding that after two months, “he was charged with receiving stolen property, which my client had admitted from the start.”

Future – The individual Cantons now want to clarify what leads to such overload. The first step involves collecting and analyzing the number of such cases. In the meantime, the Conference of Cantonal Justice and Police Directors approved a related project last April. The evaluation report is expected by the end of 2025.

Solutions – Some Cantons have already responded by creating additional positions. However, for Fabien Gasser, this is not a sustainable solution. A radical rethink is necessary. “Politicians must stop introducing new criminal laws for every social problem. Often, administrative penalties would suffice. In traffic violations, for example, is it really necessary to punish all behaviors with criminal law, even for minor infractions like a tinted windshield?”

di Il Quotidiano Online

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