From death threats online to child abuse to the exploitation of refugee women: the list of topics at the spring meeting of federal and state justice ministers was long. Nevertheless, there is a lot of consensus.
Stricter rules for operators of social networks, penalties for negligent handling of abuse and a new naming law: the federal and state justice ministers discussed 39 topics in Schwangau im Allgäu.
In 29 applications they found a common line among the countries. Only three applications were rejected, said the chairman of the conference, Bavaria’s Minister of Justice Georg Eisenreich (CSU), after the end of the spring meeting. On some issues, however, opinions differed widely. An overview:
Hate on the Internet: The justice ministers of the federal states want to punish operators of large social networks if they do not delete hate posts promptly. The federal government should examine the extent to which this is legally possible. It is about criminal content, which the companies are aware of, for example through complaints, but which is still not quickly deleted. So far, the focus of criminal law has been on the authors, the operators of the networks would have to pay fines at most.
“They pay everything out of petty cash,” said Eisenreich. It is not okay for companies to profit from profits and leave problems to democracy and the rule of law.
However, the state ministers could not agree on the demand for a nationwide reporting office for hate comments, as proposed by Hamburg’s Justice Senator Anna Gallina (Greens). Instead, existing offers from the federal states are to be improved and listed in an easy-to-find online portal. The Bavarian Minister of Justice announced that he would present an offer for people in the Free State in about two weeks. For this they want the Baden-Württemberg reporting office “Respect!” share.
Fare dodging: Berlin and Bremen had submitted an application to decriminalize driving without a ticket. A majority was not found at the conference of justice ministers – although an initiative had previously presented more than 100,000 signatures to the state ministers. So far, fare dodgers face fines and imprisonment of up to one year.
The issue cannot be “legally solved,” said North Rhine-Westphalia’s Justice Minister Peter Biesenbach (CDU). Instead, poor and addicted people, who often have to go to prison for driving without a ticket, must be helped “on the social and support side”. However, there is agreement among the countries that there is a need for advice on the subject. Therefore, the heads of the ministries should now deal with it.
Human trafficking: In the fight against human trafficking and exploitation, the Ministers of Justice are demanding new rules in criminal law from the federal government. Clearer formulations and the closing of protection gaps are necessary here. Although the regulations were only reformed six years ago, the new rules fell short of expectations. A “reorientation of the entire regulatory area” is necessary.
Bavaria, together with Lower Saxony, had demanded, among other things, that investigators be allowed to monitor the communication of suspects in cases of pimping. In addition, perpetrators should also be able to be punished if they take advantage of a situation in which the victim “threatens a sensitive evil” if they resist.
Dealing with abuse: According to the will of the state justice ministers, leaders in churches, schools and associations should be able to be punished if they enable further acts through negligent handling of cases of abuse. The federal government should examine a tightening of criminal law. “It’s about protecting children,” said Bavaria’s head of department, Eisenreich. So far, penalties for supervisors are only possible if they intentionally promote the sexual abuse of children through action or inaction. But that is often difficult to prove.
The reason for the advance of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia were cases in which Catholic clergymen were allowed to continue working in pastoral care after acts of abuse. The tightening of criminal law should apply “in the case of gross breaches of duty” by supervisors, which allow further abuse.
Naming law: The German naming law is to be reformed according to the will of the conference. The set of rules, which is based on the principle of name continuity, is “not very flexible, complicated and in some areas contradictory”. A modern right to a name must take into account the individual’s right to self-determination, diversity in the life of families and the concerns of national minorities.
Digital precautionary documents: The ministers want to make precautionary documents such as living wills digitally accessible for doctors and courts. The point is that a patient’s wishes reach the treating doctor as quickly as possible via the Central Prevention Register (ZVR). The prerequisite is the consent of the person who issued the documents. Living wills allow people to decide what treatment they want to have if they can no longer express their wishes.
Compulsory insurance against storm damage: According to the Minister of Justice, compulsory insurance against so-called elementary damage, for example due to heavy rain or landslides, is legally possible. According to the conference resolution, such an obligation for private owners of residential buildings is “not constitutionally excluded”. However, “substantial deductibles or comparable instruments would have to be provided”.
In 2017, a working group of the Conference of Ministers of Justice had cited “serious constitutional concerns” about such compulsory insurance. After a renewed examination, the country working group came to a slightly different conclusion.