Justice Minister calls anti-police-corruption bill ‘toothless’

Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou welcomed on Friday a House vote for a package of bills aiming to clamp down on police corruption, but said that amendments concerning the creation of an internal affairs unit within the force rendered the law in question toothless when it comes to the prevention of such offences.

The six bills passed with 45 votes in favour and one against, that of Elam MP Linos Papagiannis.

During discussion of the bills at the House legal affairs committee MPs had raised concerns over the legitimacy of a number of provisions included in one of the bills regulating the operation of the internal affairs unit.

Nicolaou said that even though the bills were voted for ‘almost unanimously’ by the MPs, which reinforces the collective efforts to combat police corruption, ‘we must in fact all of us show in practice, including the legislative body, our will to prevent the phenomenon and not just to repress it’.

The package of bills, Nicolaou said, included among other things the establishment of an internal affairs unit, the regulation of the investigating powers of undercover police officers, and ‘aims to create a strong legislative framework, giving police the tools they are lacking to be able to deal effectively with corruption within its corps’.

“But I must point out that amendments mutilated the law as they restrict the powers of the internal affairs unit as regards the prevention of acts of corruption. The powers to investigate acts relating to corruption offenses are limited, whereas the application of preventive measures and protection mechanisms of the (force) members are not allowed,” Nicolaou said.

Furthermore, he said, the provision calling for the requirement of securing a court order for carrying out checks, operations and investigations, makes the powers of the unit toothless when it comes to conducting effective checks, such as lifting confidentiality, and carrying out alcohol and drug tests.

“Unless the very strict preconditions for issuing a court order are met, no control for preventing corruption offences can be made,” Nicolaou said.

The unit, which will report directly to the chief of police, with its authorities and powers under the scrutiny of the attorney-general, will be mandated with gathering information on incidents of corruption within the police, and investigating and prosecuting them.

MPs amended the law so that the unit must first obtain a search warrant to be entitled to enter and search a suspect’s residence. The initial text provided for the unit to do so without a warrant from a judge.

Disy MP Demetris Demetriou said the amendments proposed by Diko and Edek, under which a provision that officers operating undercover would enjoy immunity from the law was struck off, were ‘in the right direction and were adopted’.

Oppositions parties defended the requirement for a court-ordered warrant prior to any investigation, with Diko’s Panicos Leonidou claiming that allowing for searches without a warrant would violate the rights of force members.

Even the Greens, who pledged to vote for the bills as proposed by the government, said they would vote against all amendments so they ‘couldn’t be accused of making the laws toothless’, with the exception of the provision of searches without the need for a court order.

Elam’s Linos Papagiannis, the only dissenting vote in approving the six government bills, said the new laws will change nothing.

“The rights of policemen will be violated, as if they were citizens of a lower caste,” he said.

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