Thursday, 16 December 2010

Julian Assange and Remands in Custody

Why did the Swedish Prosecuting authorities appeal against the bail decision  made earlier this week in respect of  Julian Assange? They are no doubt familiar with the Council of Europe's rules that " in individual cases remand in custody shall only be used when strictly necessary and as a measure of last resort "  and that " it shall not be used for punitive reasons." With the heavy conditions attached  to his bail and  the substantial restrictions on his freedom which they entail it is hard on the face of it to understand why they went to such lengths to keep him locked up.  It may of course be political. But it may also simply reflect how pre trial detention is used in Sweden. Remand prisoners represent a quarter of Sweden's prisoners compared to 15% in England and Wales, suggesting that their prosecutors and courts may be keener on pre trial detention than their British counterparts.  And while Assange's  might have  faced Dickensian conditions at Wandsworth,  he was not as far as we know subject to the kind of isolation and restricted regime for which the Swedes have been consistently criticised by international monitoring bodies.

There is much that is progressive in Sweden's approach to sentencing - a low rate of imprisonment, shorter sentence lengths than in the UK, small community prisons . But as far as remand is concerned , the principle of  innocence is outweighed by the demands of  prosecution.  Paradoxically in Sweden, the unconvicted lose more rights than the sentenced. It seems surprising to say but any moves to harmonise the justice system across Europe should be composed with an  English approach to remand at its core rather than the Scandinavian.

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