Toespraak van minister Weerwind bij conferentie organised crime in prison

Toespraak van minister Weerwind Rechtsbescherming bij de conferentie 'Organised crime in prisons'. Deze vond plaats op 13april 2023 in Den Haag. De toespraak is in het Engels uitgesproken. Het gesproken woord geldt.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to The Hague, international city of peace and justice. For more than 100 years, this city has been a place where people come together to develop and enforce international law. It is home to over 200 international organisations, including the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and Europol.

In this city people work together to forge new ideas for solving global problems relating to crime and justice. Today’s conference is a good example of this valuable cooperation.

It is encouraging to see so many different nationalities represented here today. This shows how important the topic of the conference is.

The Netherlands is ideally situated for international trade. It is sometimes referred to as the Mainport of Europe. Unfortunately, it’s also a mainport for international drug trafficking and, consequently, for organised crime.

Besides gangland killings, here in the Netherlands we have also witnessed the murders of people who aren’t part of the criminal underworld. People whose job it is to uphold the rule of law, including a lawyer and a trusted adviser. Besides that, judges, public prosecutors, lawyers and prison staff are often put under pressure and threatened.

The battle against crime in the free world outside the prison walls is difficult enough, but now we also have to deal with prison inmates who are very powerful and have many resources at their disposal. Serving long or even life sentences, they have nothing to lose and simply continue their criminal activities from prison.

Here’s an example. In October 2021 while visiting a client in a high-security prison in the south of the Netherlands, a lawyer was caught red-handed passing information between the high-risk prisoner and his criminal organisation outside the prison walls. The lawyer was disbarred and sentenced to 5,5  years in prison.

This is a new phenomenon for the Netherlands. And the hard-learned lesson is clear: even in prison, ruthless criminals abuse the latitude that comes with the ethical and humane treatment we give them. The boundaries set by our justice system are apparently more porous than we thought.

This raises many questions of conscience and law. How do we strike a proper balance between the right of an inmate to have contact with the outside world, and the right of society to be protected from them? How does a lawyer’s right to practice law weigh up against the right of prison staff to practise their profession safely? What are the criteria for placing an inmate under heightened supervision? And how can we continue to ensure our prison regimes are as strict as necessary, and as humane as possible?

These are dilemmas that every European country faces, not just the Netherlands. We know that these prisoners operate like multinationals and their influence extends beyond national borders.

This means the problem is an international one. From Antwerp, just 20 kilometres from our border, where drug crime is reaching crisis proportions, to Italy where Dutch criminals work closely with the Italian mafia – we are all wrestling with the same questions. Across Europe, the security of society and the resilience of the rule of law are at stake.

That’s why I want us to join forces and learn from each other’s experiences and from the initiatives we are taking to deal with organised crime inmates. I invite you to start a dialogue today.

For example, what can we do in terms of oversight of the legal profession? How can the safety of prison staff be improved? And how can information about this category of inmates be shared more effectively, both nationally and internationally?

But we can also conduct the discussion along broader lines, by exploring what kinds of prison regimes are effective. Take, for example, the Italian ‘Article 41 bis prison regime’. What are the advantages and disadvantages? How do inmates covered by this regime become socially rehabilitated?

Every country is dealing with its own specific dilemmas. The interest in this conference from across Europe shows that we want to learn from each other, and we want to look at which best practices could be useful in other countries – perhaps your own country.

To sum up, ladies and gentlemen, there is a need. There is an urgency. And there is a shared will. Let us create an informal coalition to tackle the continuation of organised crime from prison. And let’s not stop there. Let’s agree to meet again in two years to look at what this conference here in The Hague has achieved, and to plan our next steps.

I’m convinced that you will make this conference a success, and take real steps towards making Europe a safer place to be.

Thank you.