The Social Democratic minister wants to abolish conditional fines, reintroduce short prison sentences, and give judges the power to expel foreign criminals as soon as they have served their time.
Sommaruga’s aim is to “restore confidence in criminal law,” she said on Wednesday, newspaper Tribune de Genève reports.
Short prison sentences for minor offences were done away with five years ago amid criticism from several political parties, sections of the judiciary and much of the population.
Public Prosecutor for the canton of Vaud, Eric Cottier, is pleased at the planned return of short prison terms to the judicial arsenal. Others, including National Councillors Christian Lüscher and Isabelle Moret, also welcomed the proposed changes.
Moret said she believed fines or community service were not suitable for certain offenders.
“The prospect of prison is more of a deterrent for some,” she told the newspaper.
However, National Councillor Carlo Sommaruga slammed the proposal from his fellow Social Democrats, saying that no conclusive data had yet been made available on the current penal code and so there was no way of knowing whether the conditional fine system had worked or not.
He called the justice minister’s move “criminal populism”, saying that she could only be politically motivated, newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported.
Simonetta Sommaruga also proposed a controversial change to the law, which will allow the judiciary in a criminal case to expel a foreign offender once his or her sentence has been served.
This has pleased the far right Swiss People’s Party(SVP), who have long championed the mandatory expulsion of foreign criminals.
In November 2010, Swiss voters approved an SVP initiative to expel all foreign criminals upon release. However, the government refused to push through all the agreed changes due to international concerns, Tages Anzeiger reports.
The SVP is now in the process of trying to force a second referendum on the matter to ensure deportation is made mandatory.
Carlo Sommaruga meanwhile said he continues to oppose the mandatory expulsion of criminals who have served their sentences.
“Expulsion would mean that a foreign criminal would be punished twice for the same crime that a Swiss would be punished only once for” he said.