DThe federal government agreed on Wednesday to correct the sexual criminal law reform of 2021. The cabinet approved a bill from Federal Justice Minister Heiko Buschmann (FDP) that will reduce the minimum penalties for the distribution, acquisition and possession of child pornography. The draft has a particular focus on people who do not possess pornographic content out of their own interest, but rather want to clarify its origin and prevent further distribution, such as teachers and parents. For them, the reform was particularly difficult.

Before the 2021 reform, the minimum sentence was three months; Under the leadership of the then Federal Minister of Justice Christine Lambrecht (SPD), it was then increased to one year. The offense was upgraded from a misdemeanor to a felony, which eliminated the possibility of dismissal as well as the possibility of disposing of proceedings through a penal order.

Buschmann's draft now provides for a minimum sentence of six months. The maximum sentence remains ten years. In its justification, the ministry refers to the criticism from judges and public prosecutors that the 2021 change has made a “reaction appropriate to the crime and guilt” impossible in some cases. This criticism had already been made before the reform.

Praise from the German Association of Judges

Buschmann made it clear on Wednesday that the distribution of child pornographic content is “a serious crime”. In order to give public prosecutors and courts the opportunity to react flexibly and proportionately to every case, the minimum sentence is essentially returning to the old legal situation. This is “fulfilling an urgent request” from public prosecutors, courts and state justice ministers. The agreement among the entire professional community stems, in particular, from “the fact that in the future criminal prosecution can be organized more efficiently and in a more targeted manner. This is urgently needed in view of this terrible crime scene.”

Praise came from the German Association of Judges on Wednesday. It is high time to correct “the well-intentioned but poorly made tightening of punishments,” said Federal Managing Director Sven Rebehn. “The tightening measures were introduced against the advice of all experts, whose concerns have unfortunately been fully confirmed.” There are increasing examples of teachers and parents who have become aware of cases of child pornography in class chats and the school management or other parents would have wanted to point this out with the best of intentions. They are also threatened with a minimum prison sentence of one year because of the drastically tightened criminal law in 2021.

The judiciary has to pursue a large number of cases that do not actually belong in criminal courts. “This ties up a lot of staff in the public prosecutor’s offices and criminal courts, which is urgently needed to combat an unfortunately growing criminal scene,” said Rebehn.