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Detention lasted longer than prescribed period in Mustasaari

Deputy-Ombudsman Lindstedt issues reprimand to superintendent and district court judge

9.10.2009 

Deputy-Ombudsman Jukka Lindstedt has issued a reprimand to both a superintendent who was working with the Mustasaari police force and a person on a fixed-term appointment as a judge of the Mustasaari District Court because a person suspected of attempted manslaughter was kept in detention for a week too long. When a charge was not laid within the prescribed period, the suspect should have been released. The District Court released him immediately the error was revealed when the suspect's lawyer enquired about the situation in the matter.

Superintendent's numerous errors the main reason why it was not noticed that the deadline had been exceeded

The Deputy-Ombudsman points out that, under the Coercive Measures Act, a demand for detention must be announced in advance to a public prosecutor. The superintendent did this by phoning the prosecution department of the Mustasaari court district. The phone had been answered by the leading district prosecutor, who happened to be there at the time, but whose own workstation was elsewhere. The prosecutor who normally worked at this position was then on holidays.

The superintendent told the leading district prosecutor of his intention to demand that the suspect be detained and agreed with him the deadline by which a charge had to be laid. However, he did not send an advance notice of his detention demand to the prosecutor through the computer system, as he should have done. For that reason, official information that detention had been ordered and of the deadline for laying a charge never reached the actual prosecutor. The superintendent has admitted that he did not enter the advance notice into the computer system nor send the detention order to the prosecutor.

The Deputy-Ombudsman takes the view that the leading district prosecutor could have informed the actual prosecutor of the detention demand and the agreed deadline for laying a charge. On the other hand, he may have relied on the superintendent informing the prosecutor of the matter through official channels as had been agreed. The Deputy-Ombudsman does not regard the leading district prosecutor's action in the matter to have been so erroneous that he would have found it necessary to take action against him.

Further, the superintendent did not ensure that the criminal investigation protocol reached the prosecutor in time

The superintendent had given the criminal investigation protocol to the investigation secretary to be forwarded to the prosecutor only a few working days before the deadline for laying a charge, without mentioning that the matter was urgent. Consequently, the criminal investigation protocol was not copied and forwarded to the prosecutor before the deadline.

Nor did the superintendent inform the prosecutor in advance that the criminal investigation protocol was on the way. If he had contacted the prosecutor, it might still have been possible to avoid the deadline being exceeded. That would have been good police-prosecution cooperation, the Deputy-Ombudsman points out. If necessary, an application could have been made to the District Court for an extension of the deadline for laying a charge.

The District Court also bore responsibility for the detention period being exceeded

The Mustasaari District Court acted unlawfully when it failed to deal with the detention case on its own initiative once the deadline for laying a charge had expired. Although both the police and the prosecutor generally keep track of detention periods in detention cases, the District Court must also do so and release the suspect if a charge is not laid by the deadline. Thus the temporary judge acted erroneously when he did not follow the matter to see that this was done.

A system that alerts to expiry of deadlines would help prosecutors and courts to keep track of deadlines for detention orders and in other coercive measures cases

Deputy-Ombudsman Jukka Lindstedt has drawn the attention of the Ministry of Justice to the fact that it is not possible to get the computer system for district courts and prosecutors to issue alerts concerning, for example, approaching deadlines for laying charges. In his assessment, the lack of a system warning of deadlines can lead to violation of the personal liberty that is a fundamental right, as happened in this case. It is a shortcoming that is also possible to correct. Therefore the Deputy-Ombudsman has asked the Ministry to inform him, by the end of the year, of any measures it has taken to rectify the matter.

Additional information will be provided by Legal Adviser Eero Kallio, tel. +358 (0)9 432 3342.