On July 15, 2023, several amendments to the Latvian Criminal Law and the Law on Criminal Procedure aimed at increasing punishments for interpersonal violence and providing better support for its victims entered into force. The amendments specifically address such crimes as threats of murder, threats to cause serious bodily harm, stalking, and violating protective orders. The amendments also provide for speedier criminal proceedings in such cases.
Previously, these offenses were considered misdemeanors and resulted in short-term imprisonment for up to three months, probation, community service, or fines. The newly passed amendments recognize these acts as criminal offenses and increase the penalties to a maximum of one year of imprisonment. This reclassification allows the use of investigative activities prescribed by the Criminal Procedure Law, as well as the detention of suspects and accused persons for up to nine months, out of which no more than four months may be detention during the pretrial proceedings.
More severe penalties, including imprisonment for up to three years, longer probation, and higher fines would apply if such offenses targeted immediate family members, spouses, former spouses, or individuals who share the residence of the offender.
The amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law establish that submission of a complaint from the victim is no longer required to initiate criminal proceedings for threats of murder, threats to cause serious bodily harm, or stalking. Expedient criminal proceedings in cases of domestic violence are prescribed by these amendments, which require court hearings to be held within four weeks.
Simultaneously adopted amendments to the Special Protection of Persons Law extend special procedural protection to victims, witnesses, and other persons who testify or have testified in criminal cases related to threats of murder, threats to cause serious bodily harm, or stalking.
Support Measures for Victims of Domestic Violence
The adoption of these amendments coincides with the introduction of new policies for the protection of domestic violence victims. In July 2023, Cabinet Regulation No. 790 on Procedures for the Provision of Social Rehabilitation Services to Victims and Adult Perpetrators of Violence was amended to include provisions allowing victims of violence to access state-funded crisis apartments for up to 30 days, with the possibility of extending their stay at such apartments for up to 180 days. These services will be available to the victims, their minor children, and other people who shared their household. According to the Ministry of Justice, such services were previously provided only by individual municipalities.
According to the draft regulation’s explanatory notes, the state will allocate funds to cover the costs of these services, including expenses for the use of residential space, other related services, and telecommunication costs, for 50 individuals in 2023, increasing to approximately 100 individuals annually from 2024 onward.
Reasons for the Amendments
Adoption of these amendments was urged by the president of Latvia and members of the Saeima (legislature), and endorsed by the state police and prosecutor general following a recent tragedy where a young woman was killed by her abusive ex-partner after several years of threats and stalking.
According to a 2021 survey, 25.1% of women in Latvia ages 18–74 have experienced sexual or physical violence as adults, often repeatedly. Psychological violence was the most common form (28.8%), followed by physical violence (15.4%) and sexual violence (4.4%). Overall, 30.1% of women in relationships suffered one or more forms of violence. Similarly, 19.5% of men reported experiencing sexual or physical abuse as adults, with 19% encountering physical violence and 0.5% facing sexual violence.
The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention) has not been ratified by Latvia. In 2021, the Constitutional Court of Latvia found the convention compatible with the Latvian Constitution. The Ministry of Welfare now proposes ratifying the convention with the reservation that Latvia will continue upholding Latvian constitutional values, human rights, gender equality, and family protection.
Prepared by Madara Melnika, Law Library Intern, under the supervision of Peter Roudik, Assistant Law Librarian for Legal Research
Law Library of Congress, August 31, 2023
Read more Global Legal Monitor articles.