New Bill to give suspects the right to have lawyers present during police interrogation
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici yesterday launched a Bill aimed at strengthening procedural rights, “by granting the right to a private lawyer in situations where suspects are most vulnerable”.
He was speaking at the Ministry for Justice in Valletta and explained that this bill, called An Act to provide for legal assistance during detention and other rights for arrested persons, is the transposition of a European directive regarding having access to a lawyer during criminal procedures and during arrest warrant procedures. While part of the provisions already form part of Maltese law, through this bill, a guarantee for social justice continues to be strengthened, the Minister said.
The Directive and bill tackle the rights of three categories of persons: those under arrest yet have not yet been brought before the courts or any other judicial authority; those accused of a criminal offence; and persons who are subject to a European Arrest Warrant procedures.
Minister Bonnici explained that the right for access to a lawyer means that prior to an interrogation, the suspect has the right to know the accusations that surround the suspect’s interrogation, that the suspect meet with lawyer and communicate with the advocate in private, and that the lawyer have the right to be present and participate effectively during the interrogation.
Presently, one has the right to speak to an advocate before an interrogation, yet the lawyer cannot be present during interrogation. If the individual renounces this right, it would need to be recorded.
He said that government recommends this to be the first bill discussed in Parliament once sessions begin.
The Attorney General, Peter Grech, was also present, and said that during the interrogation the law says that first the police must question the suspect, and the lawyer would be present. After the first phase of the interrogation ends, only then will the lawyer be able to ask questions and make remarks. Dr Grech said that in Continental countries, like Italy, the right for a lawyer to be present during interrogation has been in place for a long time.