Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Codeine Case

Today's papers are saying that the unfortunate lady in this case has been released on 'bail'. Previous reports of her having been sentenced to four years are, apparently, somewhat inaccurate.

This whole story has acquired something of a surreal quality - almost every aspect of it is surrounded in ambiguity and confusion, and today it was revealed that even her name has been erroneously reported.

It's unusual for 'bail' to be granted in drug-related cases. I put the word in inverted commas because both the name and the nature of this concept are a bit different than what we are familiar with in the West. Suspects can be released from custody if another person surrenders their passport to the Court. This passport must contain a valid residence visa. In the event that the suspect absconds then the person whose passport has been surrendered becomes in effect a stand-in for the suspect and can be arrested and punished as if he was the original perp. I've never heard of anyone posting a financial bond.

So I wonder who has put their passport in to get this lady out?

She complains that there is no presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and indeed this is the case. The one thing that drives me nuts about this country (apart from the other 14,723 things) is just how easy it is to get thrown in jail, and how very difficult it seems to be to get your message across to the Judge. All Court proceedings take place in Arabic. This is fair enough, it is the official language of the country. Defendants are not normally allowed to speak in the court. All communication takes place through your advocate. Your advocate may or may not have a good grasp of English - the law is one profession here where being able to spikka da Inglese does not matter. It's a heavily paper-based exercise. I don't think that witnesses are ever asked to appear in court, but they can submit a written you-know-what. And there is no jury.

I know half-a-dozen people who have spent time in jail here either for fairly trivial offences ('insulting a local' is a good catch-all) or just being held while an investigation is being conducted. In all three of the latter situations the accused were acquitted.

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I guess this is the price we pay for living in a very safe society, but paradoxically I feel more at risk of imprisonment by the legal establishment than I do of being mugged or robbed.

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