The internal PN squabbles regarding Franco Debono’s abstinence in Parliament mean nothing for me. Neither do the attacks on the government by the opposition. Repeating the same old story ad nauseum. The PN says everything it’s fine, which obviously a lie, and the PL says this government is on the brink of collapse, also a lie.
However, one thing did arouse my interest. Dr Debono wanted to make a point. The point was that backbencers like him should also be given weight from the party. Quite a good point, though I don’t really bother. Yet Dr Debono went on to state his opinion on a law that had been on hold since 2002. The right for a suspect to have legal assistance while being interrogated. This did arouse my interest. Finally, I thought.
Strangely enough, in a couple of weeks the police had their time to do their homework, and the law will come into force on the 10th of next February. What homework? The way this law is drafted changes nothing. Absolutely nothing except the fact it shows that Dr Gonzi gave a little attention to Franco Debono. Hopefully they’ll live happy ever after.
The suspect (emphasise on suspect, the suspect in not only not a criminal proved guilty, but does not even have a charge in court against him) has a right to ask for consultation for half an hour before the interrogation begins. Consultaton before the suspect and his attorney do not even know what evidence will be used against the suspect. The half hour ends, the attorney leaves and the interrogation begins. There is little if any that the attorney can say to his client except that he has the right to remain silent, and that what he says can be used against him. Those same words that the police officer should tell you to make the arrest legitimate.
To add insult to injury, remaining silent on advice of your lawyer can also be used against you. It’s called ‘inference of guilt whatever that means. I can just imagine the prosecutor stating “Your Honour, this man must definitely be guilty since his lips didn’t move for 48 whole hours”
The 70’s and 80’s were horrible times. Ask someone who had been under arrest in those days, irrespective of political color. We have moved a lot forward since since. However it doesn’t mean we should take anything for granted.
If Commissioner Rizzo is reading this he must be fuming with anger. However, what I am saying is not that his administration (I’ve seen him only on the media and he seems a person of real integrity) is corrupt and disrespects human rights. What I would like to tell him is that bad apples are found everywhere, and in places of such importance checks on the potential bad apples should be mandatory. Neither he, nor his assistants can be present everywhere at the same time. It might be true that having an attorney during the whole interrogation, as well as having it videotaped, will make it harder to solve some cases. (Though the videotape can also be used against the attorney if he tries to decieve the police by suggesting rights that the suspect does not have). However if we want to make sure the abuses in 70’s and 80’s will not happen again what we need is not to vote a particular party, but put the necessary checks and balances. (I’ve been a fierce critic of both Dr Sant and Muscat many times, however I do commend them of getting rid of the violent factor in the Labour Party)
I will present two small examples (happened in Malta this last decade) to show how important these checks and balances are. As I will show, these measures will help mainly the innocent and the petty criminal. Most of the time the big guns of crime know their rights more than their attorneys.
An acquaintance of mine, a timid guy with mental health problems was arrested because he was found nearby a place where a robbery had taken place. On him a screwdriver was found, even though it was definitely not used in the robbery. I met this young man on the bus just after he had been released. He was traumatised, crying and shivering. He assured me the police did not beat him, but for a person in his vulnerable state of mind, the shouting as well as the ‘you are guilty’ attitude were too much he could handle.
The other case I’d like to mention, is one I had read about in a local newspaper. A 19 year old girl with a clean police conduct was caught with a single ecstasy pill. Definitely not a crime to be sent to prison for. An admonition maybe, or if one goes at length, a probation order?
However during arrest the girl made a confession – a confession that really shows she was just a naive occational drug user with not real criminal intent. She admitted that she had bought six pills of the drug, gave two to a friend and two others to another friend while keeping two for herself. She also stated that on the occasions she and her two friends take the pills before a party, who ever is available first will buy the drugs for all three of them.
Technically, since she handled the drugs to her friends, even if there was no intent of making profit, that was drug trafficking. In her situation, the law demanded a minimum of three months imprisonment. While giving the sentence, the judge himself admitted this was unfair, but also stated he had no other option.
Does anyone think a drug baron would be so stupid? Or that a thief with a minimum of experience would loiter around the area of the crime he had just committed with a screwdriver in his pocket?
It is these people the law should protect. People that might easily be you, I or a close friend or relative.