A - Z 2020 Switzerland - Justice System

Welcome back to my Swiss themed A -Z. You guys democratically voted on whether my J should be for the Basel based soccer stadium nicknamed Joggeli - or Switzerland's justice system. Justice won, and I want to start with this 16th-century fountain. You can find it in our capital city Bern. 

The Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen (Fountain of Justice) features the statue of Lady Justice, holding her traditional attributes - the sword of justice in her right hand, a balance in her left and a blindfold over her eyes. 

Uh, hold on, blindfold? Why? Does she not want to see the truth?

It's supposed to imply that justice should be done without respect to rank or standing; that a fair verdict must be based on facts. In other words, impartiality. 

Sounds good to me.

Throwback to college. Our law professor loved to kick off the very first class by asking: 

"What's this?"

My poor classmates were trying hard:
  • Two unknowns? (Too much algebra, anyone?) 
  • An exchange of something? 
  • Communication maybe? 
  • Currently people might remember to keep 6 six feet apart ;-)
This professor was infamous for his question, and my crush back then had told me what we were supposed to say:

A bilateral transaction, equals a contract. Duh!

Had he started the other way round "what is a contract?" we would have said a piece of paper. This way, he made us understand that's it's about the two parties who agree on something. His lesson was well learned - obviously I remember till this very day.

I was gonna love the law! 

Right or wrong, legal vs illegal, black or white.

It didn't take long and I got disillusioned, though. 

The Swiss Civil Code is in force since 1912 and contains more than 2,000 articles. 

I expected the law to be crystal clear and found out there was actually quite some wiggle room. Too much for my taste. 

Little did I know back then that I was going to be working in HR and having to deal with labor law almost on a daily basis. What have I learned?
  • Employees may look innocent, but they know every trick to call in sick and still be paid - for a very long time.
  • Use the trial period well, and if in doubt, fire their ass because once the employment is steady, it's getting hard (and expensive) to get rid of 'em.
  • Even if the law is pretty clear on paper, when push comes to shove, the poor employee will be more likely to be able to enforce their claims.
  • Opposing counsel will use every cheap trick in the book to squeeze out more money.
  • Being right does not automatically lead to getting justice.
  • Don't rely on the police. By the time they finally get around to subpoena the banks video surveillance, it'll be deleted.

Photo by Justus Menke on Unsplash

What did I need police for in my work as a Human Resources Manager? Well, when I worked for Starbucks, about once a year we experienced theft by an employee. One particular individual claimed to have deposited the daily sales at the bank drop off, only he didn't have a transaction receipt, and neither did the bank. Long story. It was pretty obvious he took the money, and he actually did this twice, but the judge didn't rule the guy had to pay us back. I was not amused.

Considering, this is small stuff, though.

What about criminal cases where bodily harm or life is concerned?

I feel our justice system is based on rehabilitation of the perpetrator being more important than reparation for the victim.

In other words, punishment is a joke. Here are some examples:

A young woman hid her pregnancy, gave birth at home, wrapped the baby in a trash bag and disposed of them in a bin. 

Has she not heard of the Babyfenster = "baby window"? 

In Switzerland, eight hospitals offer an anonymous box where you may discretely place your undesired baby. In that box you'll find a warm bed for the newborn and a list containing addresses of charitable organisations and a letter explaining the mother's options. Within a year she may reclaim her child, should she change her mind. Otherwise the foundling will be placed in foster care and given up for adoption. 

After a few minutes, allowing the mother to disappear unnoticed, the baby box will trigger an alarm for the hospital, so they can retrieve the baby and care for them. 

This institution was launched in 2001. To date there have been 24 baby drop-offs. Fortunately the number of abandoned / dead babies has decreased since then.

Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash

What happened to that particular girl who did not benefit from this legal way to get rid of her baby and instead literally dumped them? 

She got two years on parole

The Swiss justice system does not like to send people in prison for short sentences.

You wanna know who else got two years on parole? Me!!! 

What did I do? I got caught speeding. On a completely empty street. Nobody got harmed, nobody got killed. I was lucky to keep my license and had to pay a penalty and fees and taxes and God knows what else, adding up to several thousand Francs (equivalent in USD).

Moving on.
There was this elementary school teacher and gymnastics coach in the 1980s/90s. He is described as a super charismatic, friendly, all around popular guy, kids worshipped him, you get the picture. 

He manipulated people into trusting him. 

After practice he would join the students in the shower.

Some of the girls lived far away, and he invited them to sleep at his place to be ready for the tournament early next morning. Over the course of many years, he was sexually molesting and assaulting several dozen boys and girls aged 7 - 19.

The teacher / coach denied everything. Still he got convicted for sexual assault. How long was his sentence? Three years and four months. He was also banned from teaching children during five years.

This happened in 2002, meaning the guy has been out and going about his life again.

One of the girls who was courageous to come forward and speak in public, has visible physical damage. Suffering from eating disorders, she forced her body to stop developing. Her first period started at age 38. Today her height is 4'5'' and she looks like a frail deer. You want to hug and protect her. 

Three plus years? Really? 

Other case. A young boy - people in Switzerland call him Carlos, even though that's not his real name - who committed his first offence (damage of property) as a 9 year old, got arrested for the first time when he was 11 years old. Burglary, possession of firearms, violence, doing drugs, to name a few. They locked him up for 6 months.

As a 17 yo he seriously injured a young boy with a knife. The victim barely survived, and to this day he suffers from chronic pain and can't work.

The youth attorney saw potential in this juvenile offender and instead of locking him up again, he ordered a "special setting" that included Thai boxing, coached by a former world champion. The tax payers forked out CHF 29,000 a month for a private teacher, a fitness coach, social workers and a personal assistant who acts as a mother figure, around the clock. 

On top of this amount of money come the costs for a spacious apartment, food and general costs of living.

Small time criminals get worse if they are put together with the bad guys in prison, they said. 
Treat him as an individual, they said. 
Give him a stable environment. He needs structure, they said. 
Everything will be fine, they said.

Was he grateful? Did he try to make amends? Did he try to get his life in order?

Nah. He kept assaulting people in multiple cases, including prison guards where he kept going back to. 

Switzerland (and Germany) don't believe in long prison sentences. International comparison:

Source: Data Wrapper

It's hard to read. Here's what you need to know: Premeditated murder will get you ten years to life. 

"Life" in Switzerland means the following:

After as little as 10 - 15 years, a conditional release is possible. 

Say whaaaat?

Yes, repeat offenders may be roaming the streets and strike again.

It happened in 1993, a 20 yo girl scout leader was found naked, stabbed in the neck, buried in a shallow grave in the forest. The perpetrator was a guy who had previously raped and killed two women and was therefore classified as extremely dangerous, and sentenced to "life". 

What the heck was he doing in the forest then, you may ask?

Oh, he was just enjoying his unsupervised furlough he was entitled to.

This case quite understandably angered a lot of people. I think this is when safe custody ("Verwahrung" in German) was being discussed. It took until 2004 that the Swiss people voted for an indefinite confinement for untreatable high-risk criminals. You read about it in my post about democracy.

I'm happy to tell you that authorities learned from cases like this one. I'm also happy to tell you that in Switzerland we don't have many bad cases. But when we do, we're upset.

We're especially upset if something happens as nearby as the next town.

It feels like a modern case of "where were you when JFK was shot?"

It was Monday, December 21, 2015 - everybody was preparing for Christmas and looking forward to spending a couple of days with their friends and families.

Hubby came home for lunch and said "firefighters are in Rupperswil, a house is on fire."

Oh my! Did someone forget to blow out a candle or to turn off the oven? Someone we know? Were people able to get out unharmed? Hopefully there's not too much damage to the house? What an unfortunate timing.

This is what we were discussing at this point.

Later we would learn that four charred bodies were found in that house. A Mom, her two sons, 13 and 19, and the 19 yo's girlfriend. I didn't know them, but friends of mine did.

What happened?

Nobody knew. Everybody was scared.

Nobody knew, and everybody was scared for a long time.

Of course, according to murder investigation 101, the Mom's boyfriend was the first suspect, but he was cleared quickly.

In February 2016 police got desperate. A record reward of CHF 100,000 was offered to the public, but still nobody knew anything.

It is kept a secret how investigators ended up catching the guy. My guess is they analyzed tons of mobile phone data which they were technically not allowed to because us Swiss are so obsessed with privacy laws. This, by the way, is also the reason that we have very few surveillance cameras. 

Anyway. I'm glad they did what they did, and they caught the guy in May 2016. Can you believe he was actually arrested at the Starbucks closest to my house? Maybe I had coffee next to him at some point?

Photo Credit: Starbucks Everywhere

He was a decent looking 33 yo guy, claiming to be a med student (forging diplomas and stuff), volunteering as a youth soccer coach. He lived a few blocks away from the victims and checked them out while walking his dog. Since he liked young boys, the 13yo caught his attention. 

Sexual abuse (and video taping his actions) was the main reason to enter the home of this family. He also sent the Mom to the ATM to get him some nice cash. Remember it was Christmas.

I won't get into details here. Fact is he killed the family and set the house on fire to cover up his actions, and when he was caught, even though at first he lied, eventually he had the decency to confess.

Obviously the night of this gruesome multiple homicide, the killer got together with his friends as if nothing had happened. They went out for a nice dinner and had fun. 

When it all came out, the people he was socializing with were shocked. Never would they have suspected anything like this! How could anyone be so cold blooded?

In March 2018 he got sentenced to life, plus he is to be confined. 

He and his public defender appealed the confinement. They lost, phew. I trust we'll never see him again.

So, good job on this one, Swiss justice system!

How do you feel about justice in your country? Harsh? Fair? Lenient? 

Let me know in the comments below. Enjoy your weekend and be sure to be back on Monday for the letter K. I'll tell you everything you may (not) want to know about Kuhfladen = cow's pie and more. As always, I gave it my best to make it entertaining.


  1. Wow, Justice is not an easy topic, and you did well!! I love to learn things about your country, very interesting.
    Monday will be what?? Cow's pie? Ok, I will come back :D
    J is for Jewelry

  2. I think we are the opposite in the US. We seem to like harsh sentencing. We have a high incarceration rate. Maybe there's a middle ground? Weekends In Maine

  3. Before I retired I worked as a juvenile probation officer, so I find your post on the Swiss justice system very interesting. Part of my job was investigating the criminal histories of the parents of the juveniles. One thing I began to notice was how many traffic violations some parents had and the very large amounts of fines they got. So many poor families can't afford those fines. I noticed a pattern. Many criminal histories of parents started with these bloodsucking fines, then stealing and assaulting etc would start. Another thing I noticed with that comparison chart is that Europe suffers from patriarchy just like the US does. Crimes like rape and battering (not to mention any form of murder!) needs LONG sentences. When I see a rapist might serve a year for rape, it tells me that men are running the justice system. I don't see your sentences as that different than ours. Where we clog up our prisons is with non-violent offenders, mostly involved with drugs (using, making, selling.) We need the rehab for the drug offenses on outpatient basis to free up prison space for those monsters who need to be caged for life. Sorry to go on at length about it, but the justice system is one of my areas of special interest.

    1. Absolutely no need to apologize, Jade. What you're saying is very interesting and relevant! Thank you!

  4. Law is never easy. It was one of my subjects at University. I enjoyed it as a subject but decided I wasn't cut out for that profession. I like the fountain of justice.

  5. Wow - and I thought the judicial system in the States was messed up! Spoiler, it is, but at least we put some of the more violent offenders away and most victims get to attend appeal hearings and ask that parole be denied.

    We have the same issue here with seemingly minor offenses getting ridiculous sentences - it all depends on which region you live in, who the judge is, and who has the better attorney. Sexual assault seems to get the least lengthy sentences - I think most judges and attorneys are woefully ignorant about psychology and the damage rape does, or they don't care, OR they themselves harbor rape fantasies and so think it's no big deal. I think pedophiles especially should be executed - there is no hope of rehabilitation. I'm guessing that ya'll don't execute any criminals, since the law doesn't like long prison sentences.

  6. Your first paragraph, where you say "Justice won," made me smile. I'm so glad justice won something. Too often, it doesn't. ;-)


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