New charge to fill legal void?

A government official yesterday expressed support for tougher legislation to deal with «conscious negligence» in cases of major accidents, such as Monday’s crash in which seven schoolchildren died when a truck hit their coach in central Greece. At the same time, Deputy Public Order Minister Christos Markoyiannakis admitted that the judiciary’s handling of such cases is influenced by a desire to placate public opinion. Responding to a question in Parliament by Synaspismos Left Coalition MP Alekos Alavanos, Markoyiannakis said he personally backed «immediate» revision of the criminal code for such cases. «When you can foresee that your actions might possibly lead to conscious negligence, even if you believe you will be able to avoid this – but still foresee it – then you should be punished much more strictly,» Markoyiannakis said. The deputy minister argued that extant legislation, which provides for no intermediate offense between manslaughter and murder that might apply to accidents with a heavy death toll – such as the 2000 Samina ferry sinking or 2003’s Vale of Tempe crash in which 21 schoolchildren were killed – is insufficient. «[Prosecutors] are obliged to engage in legal tightrope-walking to ensure that those who are responsible are punished while at the same time public opinion is satisfied,» he said. In several major accidents, negligence suspects have been charged with the draconian «murder with possible malice aforethought.» On a different front, invited to comment on road accidents in which cyclists are injured or killed, Markoyiannakis unexpectedly accused bicycle owners of enjoying «impunity,» as they are not required to have driving or vehicle licenses, or to wear helmets. «This will be taken care of,» he warned.