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Why Sweden could change its pre-trial detention laws

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Why Sweden could change its pre-trial detention laws
A Swedish remand prison in Malmö. Photo: Ola Torkelsson/TT
08:00 CEST+02:00
Sweden could place a six-month cap on pre-trial detention of suspects if proposals from a new inquiry are put into practice.

Electronic tagging as an alternative to custody and the end of child isolation were other suggestions presented by the Detention and Restriction inquiry this week.

In Sweden, a person suspected of a crime that carries at least one year in prison can be detained before trial if there is a risk that they will flee prosecution, obstruct the investigation or continue to commit crimes. Legislation does not stipulate a maximum period of pre-trial detention, though it is reviewed by a court in remand hearings every fortnight.

The Nordic nation has received strong international criticism for its long detention periods, as well as for detaining children in isolation. As a consequence, the Swedish Government commissioned a special enquiry into the matter last year, and the proposals have now been presented. Investigators suggest both alternatives to detention and time limits on how long someone can be detained before trial.

For adults, a maximum limit of six months' detention before trial is proposed, with the possibility of extending it if there are exceptional reasons. For children under the age of 18 the limit proposed is three months.

Children would also no longer be held in ordinary remand prisons, but in special residential homes for young people instead, unless the prosecutor finds strong reasons against it. The decision would then require constant review. Children under the age of 18 would only be kept in police custody if strictly necessary.

In its reasoning for the change the inquiry pointed out that staffing levels are much greater at Sweden's special youth homes than in remand prisons, and that children have access to psychologists and teachers there. The chances of human contact are also higher.

New alternatives to detention were also proposed. In addition to existing options like travel bans, the suggestion of house arrest and area arrest through electronic tagging was made.

These proposals would mean fewer and shorter pre-trial detention hearings, the investigator argued.

“There would be a thorough investigation, and the prosecution would also be required to specify a timetable. Isolation would be reduced and for children that would be a significant improvement,” judge and investigator Inger Söderholm commented.

The Swedish government has welcomed the proposals.

“I'm cautiously positive about the proposals the investigator presented and they will now be sent out for consultation so we can see what the criticisms are,” Interior Minister Anders Ygeman told news agency TT.

“Bringing in new legislation is desirable because we have received strong international criticism over a number of years, especially when it comes to the isolation of children, so Sweden can do better than what we have achieved so far,” he added.

The proposed legal amendments would come into effect on February 1st and April 1st 2018.

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