CRIMINAL LIABILITY AND COVID - 19
Author: Bojana Bogojević, LL.B. with completed Bar Exam, Corporative Management Specialist, UN Accredited Climate Change Teacher
As an author I believed that I would never find myself in the situation of writing this type of text concerning my country, as a human being I was afraid of even thinking that testimonies from historical documents could once again come to life, but, unfortunately, as someone with a pretty wide field of expertise, I knew that it was only a matter of time before humanity faces a new challenge. A challenge that would test our knowledge, skills, capacities, and virtues to their utmost limit
In early March 2020 (more precisely on March 6) the first case of a person infected with COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, or more precisely SARS – CoV2, was confirmed in the Republic of Serbia. Under Article 200, paragraph 8 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, the state of emergency was introduced on March 15, 2020, by a Decision on Introducing State of Emergency, and the Government of the Republic of Serbia has introduced special measures solely to suppress and prevent the dispersion of the virus. Here I am obliged to inform you about the Criminal Code provisions which have gained special importance during the pandemic and in the circumstances in which our country finds itself, having in mind the large number of our citizens who do not comply with them. Whether those citizens fail to respect the pertinent measures due to ignorance, irresponsibility or recklessness is not for me to judge in this time and place.
Chapter 23 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Serbia regulates offenses against human health. I would like to especially highlight the following:
- - Article 248. which refers to the offense of failing to act according to health regulations during an epidemic and where the legislator states: “Whoever during an epidemic of a dangerous contagious disease fails to act according to regulations, decisions or orders setting forth measures for suppression or prevention thereof, shall be punished by fine or imprisonment up to three years.”
- - Article 249 regulates the offense of contagious disease-transmitting: "Whoever fails to act according to regulations, decisions or orders for suppression or prevention of contagious decease and thereby a contagious disease is transmitted, shall be punished by imprisonment up to three years."
It’s especially important to draw your attention to Article 259 regulating grave offenses against health which states that:
- - If due to offenses specified in Articles 249 hereof a person sustains grievous bodily harm or serious health impairment the offender shall be punished by imprisonment of one to eight years.
- - If due to offenses specified in Articles 249 hereof result in the death of one or more persons, the offender shall be punished by imprisonment of two to twelve years
Due to the decisions made to prevent the spread of the virus and further transmission of the contagion, we all spend a large portion of our time on screens of different sizes searching for as much information as possible to protect our families, our loved ones, without understanding that sometimes we can be exposed to substantial risk out of best intentions, precisely through social or mass media. This risk preys on us by using panic caused by the current situation, due to which we all become susceptible to unverified information from even more unverified sources.
Out of the wish to protect you from becoming either a victim or an offender, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Chapter 31 of the Criminal Code of Republic of Serbia regulates offenses against public peace and order, with the most important offense (in line with all the aforementioned) being the causing of panic and disorder from Article 343.
The said offense can be committed in two ways:
"(1) Whoever by disclosing or disseminating untrue information or allegations causes panic, or serious disruption of public peace and order or frustrates or significantly impedes enforcing of decisions of government authorities or organizations exercising administrative authority, shall be punished by fine or imprisonment from three months up to three years.
(2) If the offense specified in paragraph 1 of this Article is committed through media or similar means or at a public gathering, the offender shall be punished by imprisonment from six months up to five years."
To fully understand the term “panic”, having in mind that we are referring to a criminal offense, we can use the definition provided by Zoran Stojanović, Professor Emeritus of Criminal Law at Belgrade Faculty of Law which states that panic is “sudden more intense citizen alarm caused by fear due to delivery or distribution of fake news or assertions. Panic frequently causes the citizens to take actions disrupting public peace and order, but that is not necessary for this type of consequence”.
Having in mind the situation faced by our society and our country which will surely remain as such for a while, and especially since the length of its duration largely depends on our discipline and compliance with the measures introduced (as I have already mentioned) for our good, it is important to highlight that it is quite certain that this criminal offense will be perpetrated on social media. It is also important to note that anybody could be the offender.
I am aware that these measures seem difficult, but try to see them as just another challenge that we will manage to successfully and quickly overcome only if we all stick together, and after which we will be able to freely create new memories that we will appreciate even more. Responsibility and patience are the toughest exams life places before us, but they also provide us with the sweetest rewards once we pass them. I believe that now, armed with legal information, you will be able to make the right decisions. And please, do not forget that your decisions impact the future of all of use. Stay at home and stay healthy.
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