The Malta Independent 15 July 2024, Monday
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PN MPs express concern over proposal to increase arrest period for suspects to over five days

Monday, 27 March 2023, 19:16 Last update: about 2 years ago

Nationalist Party MPs expressed concern at a proposal to increase the period a suspect of a crime can be arrested from two days up to five and a half days while speaking in Parliament.

On Monday, Parliament continued to discuss Bill 49 which concerns various Laws relating to Police Arrest and Detention.

The objects and reasons of this Bill are to provide for the possibility to extend the period of arrest of persons reasonably suspected of having committed serious crimes liable to a maximum punishment exceeding 12 years imprisonment so that the investigators will have more time to obtain and preserve evidence.

The Bill would see the amount of time that a person can be detained for without charge increased from 48 hours to 132 hours – meaning that from two days, police would have five and a half days to charge or release the individual who would have been arrested.

Discussing the Bill, PN MP Mario de Marco questioned whether increasing the timeframe by such an amount was justified.

He said that while the government is proposing that this is to be subject to the necessary safeguarding procedures and the authorisation of a magistrate, those same procedures are not enshrined in the Constitution, but are in the Criminal Code – which only needs a simple majority to change.

“I think the proposal to increase the timeframe by this much is exaggerated.  When being sensitive and understanding the needs of the police in certain delicate and serious cases one can understand extending the 48 hour period to slightly longer, but I think five-and-a-half days is too extensive,” he told Parliament.

He appealed to the government to look at what other countries are doing and also see what the police need and then try to strike a compromise between a person’s right to personal liberty and the requirements for the police to investigate serious crimes.

In his speech, PN MP Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici raised concern at the effect that an extended period of detention could have on the average citizen if they are arrested in connection with a crime.

He said that the extended period can be used as a means of eliciting a false confession, saying that this would be dangerous and much like going back in time.

He cited an example of a client of his in the past had been forced to admit to a criminal charge after being arrested, and were then found to have been beaten by a boat oar while they were held in custody.

Regarding this episode, Mifsud Bonnici, who is a lawyer by profession, said how the beating emerged after further investigations by his legal partner at that time.

He said that some people have admitted to charges which they haven’t committed, even under the current 48 hours detention law.

He said that if this law was to change to allow a total of 5 and a half days detention, there might be abuses and “good officials might use this short route instead of making use of their investigative abilities.” 

In his winding-up speech of the second reading of the Bill, Justice Minister Jonathan Attard said that while he understands that many in Parliament who spoke about the Bill are speaking from a legal perspective as they are lawyers by profession and still work in the field, this shouldn’t be the case as MPs are in Parliament to represent the people as a whole.

“We [the government] have said that this is going to be the exception and not the rule,” he said with reference to comments on the additional timeframe in the period of arrest.

He reminded how these additional hours will only be used in serious cases and that there should be a balance between the suspect’s rights and the “need for the police to have the legislative tools to do their job.”

He said that the scrutiny to add more hours where a suspect can be held under arrest in certain serious cases will be left to a magistrate.

The minister said that after listening to speeches from the other side of the House, he had taken some recommendations into consideration and thus proposed further amendments.

The first one of these is that during the first six hours in which the case is being brought to court, the suspected person cannot be interrogated in any way. This behaviour shall also be followed during the decision being made for the allocation of more hours under arrest.

The second recommendation states that the time for when the arrest was made will be recorded and that a definition for “a police officer making an arrest” will also be provided “so that there isn’t any confusion.”

“We are open for recommendations, be it from the judiciary’s association or the PN; as we want to strengthen what is being proposed,” he said.

On points raised on police bail and whether there are enough resources to enforce this, the minister said that the additional arrest hours are not being proposed because of this. On the contrary, he said that there are enough human resources as “these individuals need to be kept under 24-hour surveillance.”

However, he added that even if it were the case “we are not going to let it interfere at the cost of people’s safety.”

The Nationalist Party indicated its intention to vote in favour of the Second Reading of the Bill, but reserved the right to vote against pending the Bill going before committee stage, where more technical discussions and further amendments can be proposed.

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