Principle of opportunity

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The principle of opportunity is a principle in Dutch law (opportuniteitsbeginsel), Swedish law, Slovenian law and French law, which says that a crime will be punished only if its prosecution is considered opportune. This means that public prosecutors have the discretion to cancel the prosecution of a crime. Cancelling the prosecution of a crime is called a sepot or seponering (in Dutch). Cancelling the prosecution of a crime is mentioned in the First Book, First Title, Fourth Section of the Dutch Criminal Procedure Code (Art. 12, 12a, 12b, 12c, 12d, 12e, 12f, 12g, 12h, 12i, 12j, 12k, 12l, 12m, 12n, 12o, 12p, 13 and 13a).[1]

In countries that do not recognise the principle of opportunity, it can be considered a felony to cancel the prosecution of a known felony.[2]

There are three sorts of cancellation of prosecution:

  • policy sepot: petty crimes are not prosecuted in order to free up capacity in the legal system in order to prosecute serious crimes;
  • technical sepot: there is not enough evidence to obtain a conviction from a court or such a conviction is highly unlikely;
  • conditional sepot: the crime suspect is spared from being prosecuted provided that the suspect commits no other crimes. In Belgium this is called a praetorian probation.

If the prosecution of a crime is cancelled, it can still be resumed later (the ne bis in idem principle does not apply to sepots),[3] except if the Public Department has made a formal communication to the crime suspect that the suspect is no longer prosecuted (then prosecution cannot be resumed according to administrative law trustworthiness principle).

According to Article 12 of the Dutch Criminal Procedure Code,[1] a person with a direct concern in the prosecution of a crime may fill at a court of law a complaint against the cancellation of the prosecution. If the council chamber of the court decides that the crime should be prosecuted, it will have to be prosecuted.


  1. ^ a b Art. 12, Sv.
  2. ^ Some similar provisions are in Belgian law. This also seems to be the case in Estonia. Ploom, Tristan (2000). "Principle of opportunity". Juridica. Estonia (VI): 369–376. ISSN 1406-1074. Retrieved 12/6/2009. One possibility for making the criminal procedure more speedy and effective in Estonia is the application of the principle of opportunity instead of the principle of legality which governs at present. The author also introduces the provisions concerning the principle of opportunity as proposed in the draft Estonian Criminal Procedure Act. Under the draft act, the principle should be applied as an exception rather than a rule  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  3. ^ The sepot is not a verdict of a judge, in the meaning of the Art. 350, Sv.

See also[edit]

Nolle prosequi: the principle of opportunity is a generalized (principalized) form of nolle prosequi.