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Police Suspect Detention Time
Publication date: 2005-08-07

Why the Time Limit for Detention of Suspects by the Police Should be Extended and with What Safeguards

The British Police are asking for a law to allow them to detain “terror suspects” without trial for up to 3 months. And some say it will violate “Civil Liberties”.

The present time limit for detention without trial is 14 days. And the Police say that this time is not sufficient to carry out proper investigation. So, they would want a law which will allow them to extend the time limits, if required by the needs of investigation, to up to 3 months, in 14 days increments. Each increment being approved by a judge.

Those who object to such law vaguely invoke the slogan of “Civil Liberties”, we shall look at this issue from prime principles from the point of view of right and wrong and true and false.

The key point in this case is that it involves detention of “suspects”. From which it follows that the detained person might be innocent of any crimes.

And this would mean that an innocent person could be effectively imprisoned for up to 3 months, for the only reason that the Police mistakenly believed him to be in some way associated with a crime. On the other hand, if the police investigation does prove that the suspect was a criminal, then the 3 months preliminary detention would form part of the subsequent conviction, and no injustice to the suspect will be done.

And the solution to the problem of the 3 month imprisonment of a suspect, who subsequently is proved to be innocent, is to adequately compensate him monetarily for the injustice caused to him.

Such compensation should be an integral part of the legislation, and should be paid automatically, without the need for the wrongly imprisoned suspects to seek compensation from the police through courts.

Other issues can arise from imprisonment of “terror suspects”, besides the fact of imprisonment itself.

In the course of interrogation of suspects the police can be tempted to use various forms of pressure, intimidation and even torture. This can happen (1) as a deliberate policy, or (2) as a result of individual police officers taking steps on their own initiative. This latter can happen through lack of proper training, overzeal, influence of emotions (like anger at the “terrorists”), and, in some cases, even sadistic impulses.

And while the Police, as an institution, seeks to prevent abuses of power by its individual members, such abuses can and do happen.

Thus, in addition to the possibility of prolonged incarceration of suspects, who subsequently prove to be innocent, there is also the possibility that such innocent people would be subjected to various authorized interrogation techniques, as well as to possible unauthorized abuse.

Thus, the compensation to suspects who subsequently prove to be innocent, should also include allowances for being subjected to whatever authorized interrogation techniques.

As the hysterical atmosphere created by the politicians and the media arouses hostile feelings to “suspects”, which is evidenced by the cases of attacks on people who are seen as suspects for no other reason than their external appearance (Asian or African complexion, facial features, dress, etc.), such feelings of hostility towards the “suspects” can be shared by some members of the police personnel. And this can lead to use of violence against the suspects, beyond of what can be justified by any necessity. And it can be very difficult to distinguish between the justified and the unjustified violence.

In all organized groups (schools, factories, offices, armies, police, etc) there exists a tendency among the group members to “stand by their mates” and “not to grass on their mates”, and thus to protect the members of the group against the “outsiders”. And this includes covering up any misdeeds by the members of the group.

Such covering up of criminal acts by members of a group due to group solidarity is further reinforced by the tendency of the top level officials to deny or cover up the crimes of those below them. This tendency goes up all the way to the level of heads of states.

This tendency of the top level officials to deny or cover up the crimes of those below them is due to both “rational” justifications and irrational factors.

The “rational” justification of cover‐ups by top officials is that they are necessary to preserve “public trust” in institutions. Thus, according to this view it is better to cover up a crime by members of an institution than to make it public and in that way to “discredit the institution”.

The irrational factors of cover‐ups are fear and unwillingness to admit a wrong done by one's “side”.

Thus, recognition of the possibility of criminal acts by members of the institutions and of the possible cover‐ups extending up to the highest level need to be part of the proposed legislation. It is also necessary to provide workable practical ways of dealing with such crimes and cover‐ups. Without this the proposed legislation will become a vehicle for abuses of power by authorities. Such abuses always discredit and weaken the powers of the authorities and strengthen the position of those who seek to oppose the established authorities by violent means. And this will make the proposed legislation counterproductive.

Yes, there can be cases when for the purpose of police investigation a suspect might need to be detained for more than 14 days and even for up to three months. But such detentions need to have genuine and valid reasons, and there must be workable practical way of verifying the validity of such reasons. And, the proposed legislation to extend the detention time of suspects without charge needs to include safeguards as outlined above.

Nor should this legislation be restricted to suspects accused of crimes associated with “terrorism”, it should be applicable to any crimes. As far as the police is concerned, their task is to prevent crimes against person and property. The motives for the crimes are of purely circumstantial importance as far as the police is concerned. The police is dealing with suspected murderers, arsonists, burglars, rapists, fraudsters and thieves. The information that such acts were motivated by war related hostilities, politics, religion, greed, lust, envy, jealousy, or perverse psychology might help in understanding the behaviour of the suspects and thus help the investigation, but apart from that it has no relevance to the police.

The police and the army should not be influenced by public hysterias, nor by demagogy of politicians seeking to use such hysterias for their political ends.

And under no circumstances should there be any presumption that members of any authority at any level are incapable of committing crimes.

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