Philippe has granted 11 pardons since his accession
The debate on royal prerogatives was revived by Sunday’s announcement on the VTM Royalty program that Philippe granted 11 pardons since his coronation.
Philippe has promised not to consent to collective pardons, the last of which was in 1993 when Baudouin reduced all prison sentences by six months on the occasion of Belgium's European presidency.
Since the Dutroux affair, royal pardons have almost disappeared. Between 2003 and 2005, one thousand prisoners have received sentence reductions. There were no more than 96 in 2009 and 53 last year out of one thousand that were requested.
The right of pardon is described in article 110 of the Constitution: "The king has the right to set aside or reduce sentences pronounced by judges, except for those imposed by ministers and members of Community and Regional governments."
The introduction of the Sentence Enforcement Court (TAP) conferred the responsibility for setting sentences enforcement methods solely on the Justice ministry. In the future the TAP's responsibilities will include management of sentences of less than 3 years, the last trace of the Justice ministry's hold on sentence enforcement.
The king grants pardons under the auspices of the Justice ministry, the final signatory of a favor that takes into account the opinions of the courts and prison records. Most pardons concern "petty" crimes, such as driver's license suspensions for example. Some people view these as an outdated privilege. Constitutionalist Emmanuel Vandenbossche (VUB) thinks they are contrary to international law that gives judges alone the task of determining sentences.
Disapproval is unanimous among Flemish politicians. In Sunday's De Standaard Karin Temmerman (SP.A) declared that the system belongs to the past, "We have tribunals and appeals courts."
Which crimes are covered by Philippe's pardons? Temmerman has asked the government for information. Convinced that they have to do with traffic issues, CD&V member Jef Van den Bergh says it sends a "wrong message." Théo Francken (N-VA) recalled that his party introduced a draft law ending this royal privilege. Guido De Padt (VLD) joined in, "We want it to be abolished and want the sentencing tribunals to have sole responsibility." These two politicians mention that in 2009 and 2010, most pardons were given to French-speakers - 76% in 2009 and 92% in 2010.
Pardons will be on the agenda for the parliamentary debate on modernizing the royal function, but the French-speakers are in no hurry to open that debate.