The Chair of Parliament’s National Security Committee, MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik has said that the Criminal Procedure Code bill currently being drafted in parliament will include strong measures to protect witnesses and ensure successful prosecutions.
The Hulhu-Henveiru constituency MP told local media that the parliament’s National Security Committee – charged with reviewing the bill – had decided to restrict the rights of those accused of major crimes as well as introducing strict procedures during criminal investigations.
Among the measures to be made part of the legislation include setting a limit for the maximum detention period of such suspect, reducing the right to remain silent and the right to obtain legal counsel while in custody.
Furthermore, Moosa said that the bill, once ratified, would make it mandatory for a suspect to consent to urine tests and DNA tests, as well as submitting fingerprint and handwriting samples.
Moosa said that the National Security Committee members have also agreed that 135 days ought to be the maximum period a person can be detained by police for criminal investigations.
Under the new provisions included in the bill, explained Moosa, police would be expected to conclude investigations and file for prosecution within a 60 day period, while the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office must press charges within a 15-day period.
“The bill also allows suspects of major criminal offences to be placed under custody during police investigation and up until the trial is over,” Moosa told local media.
Mandatory tests and restrictions on right to remain silent
The Criminal Procedure Code bill was originally proposed during the 16th parliament session under former ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, before being re-submitted by President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration during the next session.
The bill has been pending in parliament for the past five years, with the legislature coming under heavy fire from NGO’s and the public over the delay, particularly during the record high number of murder cases in the past three years that included the murder of former MP Dr Afrasheem Ali.
The Criminal Procedure Code bill identifies terrorism, murder and manslaughter, causing grievous bodily harm, offenses against minors, drug trafficking, money laundering and other similar acts as major criminal offences.
Those accused of less serious offences may be kept in detention for a period of 70 days – which includes 30 days for criminal investigations, 10 days for prosecution, and an additional 30 days to conclude the trial.
Moosa argued that, although the right to remain silent is enshrined in the constitution, no criminal suspect should have the liberty to refuse to undergo urine and DNA testing, which he argued would prove to be central for prosecutions.
“We believe the right to remain silent and consenting to taking urine and body samples are two different things. This is the practice in all developed countries,” Moosa claimed.
Earlier this year opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor was sentenced to six-months in jail after he refused to cooperate with the courts investigation into an alleged refusal to provide a urine sample. The High Court, however, quashed his conviction on the grounds that the Criminal Court had not followed due process when deeming him guilty.
In order to safeguard possible witnesses to a crime, the committee members have also agreed to bar those accused of major crimes from privately meeting attorneys and family for a period of 36 hours from the time of arrest – a decision supported by both the police and the judiciary.
Both High Court Judge Abbas Shareef and Criminal Court Judge Muhuthaaz Muhsin have spoken in favor of such a provision during the committee’s discussions, which have also seen contributions from the PG’s Office, Human Rights Commission (HRCM), and the police.
“In 80 percent of the murder cases, witnesses were tempered through threatening and intimidation, after the accused meets with his lawyers and family members. This is something that is being talked about and this is how it is done,” Judge Muhsin told the committee.
Meanwhile High Court Judge Shareef told the committee that in some jurisdictions a suspect of a major criminal offence is denied of the right to obtain legal counsel or to meet their family and relatives for a period of three days, while in others family and relatives are not even informed of the suspect’s location.
“In some US States, [such a suspect] is not even at all allowed to meet family or obtain legal counsel. There are countries which have laws that allow a suspect’s location of detention be made confidential for a period of 72 hours,” Shareef explained.
HRCM member Jeehan Mahmood objected to the provisions, however, citing violations of fundamental human rights.