After The Castille MEPA Protest Man we now have The Aggressive St Paul’s Bay Man. I apologise for the weird titles but it seems that this kind of tag is here to stay – we actually have the media ‘tagging’ the poor Kazakh woman who was guilty of participating too enthusiastically in a local festa as The Bikini Dancer (incidentally you have to love how the Times URL places the title just after the “local” tag in so very much “A League of Gentlemen Fashion”).
My problem today is not about this recent unconscious fad of media tagging that in a way resembles archaeological findings such as Cro-Magnon man and the like. Rather it is about the worrying increase of reports of the police recommendations that persons under arrest be seen to by a psychologist in what seem to be a rather heavy handed manner of dealing with (possible) anti-social behaviour.
In the case of Mr Busuttil of the Castille MEPA Protest I have already spoken about how the resort to psychologists was an extremely worrying case of the police resorting to a Catch-22 scenario that stinks of heavy handed bullying and silencing of anybody with a gripe with the Prime Minister (see Arrested Development). In the case of Mr Snedden we have once again heard reports of the police requesting psychological assistance for an arrested person as seen here in a Malta Independent report:
The police declined to comment for the time being since investigations are still ongoing and a court case being heard. The prosecuting inspector , Godwin Scerri, however did state in court that Mr Sneddon has a bad temper and is a danger to himself and society and should be seen by a psychologist. He also said that Mr Sneddon was injured in a separate incident before the incident ensued between the accused and the police.
I stand by Jason Azzopardi’s position on this particular situation – particularly if the alleged rough-handedness by the police did take place. The issue of the police increasingly insisting on psychological assistance (and we do not know how often this is resorted to since we can safely assume that other cases are not reported) is worrying.
In Mr Busuttil’s case we saw warning signs of dangerous methods that threaten the safety of persons accused of committing a crime during the period of their arrest and detention. The introduction of psychologists who are prepared to sign on the dotted line and commit a person to a mental institution based on a suspicion by the men in blue is extremely worrying and to say the least.
Without getting too technical we are talking here of the writ of habeas corpus – an institution in criminal law designed to safeguard the personal freedom of an individual even when criminal proceedings are being held against him. Much noise has surrounded the rights of arrested persons (particularly their right to be assisted by a lawyer) in the run up to the last elections and we have heard much about the great legal reforms being undertaken to improve the laws.
Meanwhile however, the police seem to be relying on the psychological excuse all too often. Mr Busuttil’s case was a flagrant abuse of this factor. If the police advice were to be followed in Mr Snedden’s case we are entering dangerous territory. Why? Well, Mr Snedden is not the first and by my guessing nor will he be the last to engage in a violent reaction when confronted by the police. Without justifying his reaction at all it should be the case to examine how such persons are dealt with.
If anything what we are facing here is not an extreme solution that tends to deal with persons in the haphazard “off to Mount Carmel” approach – or risks getting them off the hook (if they are guilty) with a few sessions at the psychologist of choice. It may be time to explore the UK road of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. Cases of violence when confronting public officers are most times a question of behaviour and upbringing.
The ASBO is in itself an attempt at legally defining a behavioural trait – as can be seen in the UK definition:
The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 defines anti-social behaviour as acting in a manner that has “caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household” as the perpetrator.
Of course exploring this avenue is one part of the solution. Unfortunately the comical approach to upholding the law that is evidenced in cases such as that of the poor Kazakh woman, or over-reactions to cases of nudity by the beach for example – do nothing to strengthen the trust that is needed in the police force in doing their work.
Jason Azzopardi’s appeal for an inquiry must also be followed up by a thorough review of the police forces education and role in the process of arrest, detention and prosecution as well as by an examination of the possibility of introducing the concept of ASBOs in our legal system. My biggest concern as to the latter is that there are so many examples of Anti-Social Behaviour in this country that one would not know where to start enforcing it. Still, time is ripe for debate – and above all keep us away from those psychologists.