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Malta’s 48-Hour Arrest Rule Should Be Double For Serious Crimes, MP Suggests

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Extending Malta’s 48-hour rule for arrests could be on the cards after MP Jason Azzopardi proposed doubling the limit for serious cases.

Speaking in parliament, Azzopardi said that the extensions will only apply to cases involving terrorism, money laundering, drug trafficking, or murder.

“One needs to make a distinction between petty crime such as the theft of a handbag and murder,” Azzopardi said.

Azzopardi suggested proposing amendments to the Criminal Code and Constitution to grant Magistrate powers to extend the 48 hours, once police justify the request with evidence.

Azzopardi, who is the parte civile lawyer in the Daphne Caruana Galizia, has some first-hand experience with the issue. Yorgen Fenech, the man charged with the assassination, was released and rearrested several times before being charged because of the rule.

Fenech and his doctor Adrian Vella have since told the courts that former Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri passed on messages to Fenech while the latter was out on police bail.

More recently, Schembri, along with Nexia BT players Brian Tonna, Karl Cini, and Manuel Castagna, were all released following their arrest in relation to alleged kickbacks on the citizenship-by-investment scheme once the 48 hours expired.

Enshrined in Malta’s constitution, the 48-hour rule has its own complexities. In the past, police would simply arrest a person, wait 48 hours to release, and then just rearrest them as soon as they left Police Headquarters.

The issue led to a legal challenge in 1981, with a court ruling in Joseph Galea’s favour and imposing that a fair interval between the first and successive arrests.

However, since then police bail has been introduced, which means that investigators can release a suspect subject to conditions. These conditions usually include a ban from leaving the country and a requirement to attend either the Police Headquarters or a police station on certain days.

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