On 5 October 2019, the third “fundamental” reform of Polish criminal procedure in the last four years came into force. It is supposed to be faster, fairer and less bureaucratic. We heard the same claims for the changes coming into force on 1 July 2015 and then on 15 April 2016. But court cases have not speeded up. On the contrary, there are more complaints about delays and thus payments from the State Treasury to victims of dilatory proceedings.
On 6 June 2019, another amendment to the Pharmaceutical Law came into force. Its aim is to reduce the occurrence of non-availability of medicines. According to the authors of the changes, only more severe penalties and broader penalisation can limit the undesirable occurrence of the reverse distribution chain. However, the first comments on these changes show that the threat of penalties alone may not be enough to achieve this goal. It has been known for some time now that the inevitability of punishment is an indicator of the effectiveness of criminal policy.
A new Corporate Liability Act which is currently before the Polish Sejm will put criminal law institutions in a new perspective. Certain instruments that were seen as appropriate only with respect to individuals will have to be redirected to be deployed in the case of corporate entities. Once the new laws take effect, corporate entities will be the focus of attention of law enforcement agencies. The new approach will affect among other things police entrapment operations (controlled handing over of a bribe), at the moment usually used with regard to businesspeople.
Tardiness in investigations and court cases is a structural problem in Poland. This was confirmed among other things in a pilot judgment issued by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) of 7 July 2015 in Rutkowski and Others v. Poland. This is also confirmed by Ministry of Justice statistics. In 2018, the number of investigations of a duration of between two and five years was up 583 on 2017. Tardiness can occur in particular in complex criminal cases with a commercial element, and for this reason the problem of tardiness will probably affect corporate liability cases conducted once a law now before parliament takes effect. Based on the current wording, the question arises of who will be able to file a complaint concerning tardiness in cases of this kind, and when.
Compliance programmes are gaining in popularity, in particular in the context of a draft of a new corporate criminal liability act, as a defence precisely against this liability. Primarily, however, compliance should be a tool for ensuring that an organisation functions properly, especially as the number of regulatory requirements is on the rise. To fulfil both functions, a compliance programme must be effective.
The debate about whether implementing and enforcing a compliance programme is a general legal obligation is nothing new. Compliance is a tool for managing an organisation’s operational processes, preventing wrongdoing, and mitigating liability. For this reason, it is an element of the duty to exercise due diligence, with penalties not only of a criminal nature.