By means of new draft legislation which will implement a European Union directive, persons under Police interrogation will have the right to be assisted by a lawyer of their choice during the interrogation. The draft was presented by Justice Minister Owen Bonnici, who said this would strengthen the rights of citizens in the implementation of justice.
Minister Bonnici explained that the most innovative parts of the bill are that it gives a right to a person under arrest to exercise in a practical and effective manner the right to have legal aid both during interrogation of the person and also when Police are carrying out other forms of investigation, including confrontation between witnesses or reconstruction of scenes of crime.
The draft lays down that a suspect has to be informed by the Police about which crime he or she is being investigated. The suspect will also have a right to meet privately with his lawyer. The bill also provides for the lawyer’s right to not only be present but to participate effectively in the interrogation. In the case of a European Arrest Warrant, the person can ask to be assisted by a lawyer in both the countries executing the warrant.
Minister Bonnici explained that this right can be regulated, and is not to be understood that the lawyer will have the right to hinder the interrogation or suggest replies to his client, and except in exceptional circumstances every question or remark by the lawyer can be made after questions have been put during interrogation.
The bill provides for certain limitations, including for terrorist-related or organised crimes, when immediate action is required by the investigating authorities in order to avoid substantial danger to criminal proceedings, or serious consequences to the life, freedom and physical integrity of persons. These abrogations from normal procedure, however, can only be authorised by a magistrate, and the decision can be appealed.