Seven More Years! The Principal Witness Rule In Austria ' Extended And Revised

Published date08 March 2022
Subject MatterAnti-trust/Competition Law, Criminal Law, Antitrust, EU Competition , Cartels, Monopolies, Crime
Law FirmOBLIN Attorneys at Law LLP
AuthorMichael Ibesich, Per Neuburger and Klaus Oblin

Austrian law knows two - arguably three - versions of the principal witness rule: On the one hand, the "small" and "large" principal witness rules, found in Section 41a of the Austrian Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch, StGB) and Section 209a of the Austrian Code of Criminal Procedural (Strafprozessordnung, StPO), respectively, apply to certain criminal offenses. The principal witness rule in antitrust law, on the other hand, is found in Section 11b of the Austrian Competition Act (Wettbewerbsgesetz, WettbG) and Section 209b StPO, and finds usage in uncovering, investigating, and prosecuting cartel offenses.

Effective on 1 January 2022, the Austrian legislator extended the initially limited period of applicability of Sections 209a and 209b StPO for seven more years and introduced amendments to both the large principal witness rule and its antitrust counterpart. These revisions will be the focus of this article. In the first part, the large principal witness rule will be discussed. The second part will focus on the principal witness rule in antitrust law.

1. The Principal Witness Rule in Austrian Criminal Law

1.1. When was the principal witness rule introduced into Austrian criminal law?

Austria is obliged by international law to have a principal witness rule in place. By ratifying the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, Austria committed to a shared responsibility "to combat bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions".1 Non-trial resolutions or settlements have become an increasingly important pillar of combatting serious economic crimes, including bribery of foreign officials.2

On 1 January 1998, the so-called "small" principal witness rule came into force in Austria. It held out the prospect of mitigating circumstances for the witness applicant, but at that time the legislature did not want to grant complete immunity from prosecution.

On 1 January 2011, the "large" principal witness rule entered into force additionally. Its applicability had initially been set to expire on 31 December 2016. A practical evaluation, however, showed that, while the rule's importance was recognized, it had been applied only in a few cases since its introduction. A final evaluation of the rule was therefore not possible. On 1 January 2017, the legislator enacted a revised version of the rule that was set to expire on 1 January 2022.3

In 2020, a further evaluation showed that the principal witness rule was considered positive and could not be...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT