Calls to reduce number of unconvicted prisoners

Police are increasingly successful at locking up suspects to prevent them interfering with investigations, though experts argue the practice is problematic

The number of suspects held on remand, and the length of time they are held for, needs to be reduced according to the public prosecutor’s office, Rigsadvokaten.

Police often manage to keep suspects jailed on remand (imprisonment before trial) for long lengths of time by arguing that the suspect would otherwise disrupt police investigations.

Over a period of four years, between 2007 and 2011, the number of suspects held on remand rose by 800 to 6,787. This rising number is problematic, argues Eva Smith, a professor of law at the University of Copenhagen.

“The police argue to judges that unless they are locked up, they will destroy evidence and make it difficult to prove the case,” Smith recently told The Copenhagen Post. “It’s a puzzle that we have these long periods of custody –other countries seem to be able to investigate and prepare for trial without holding people on remand for that long. It just seems to be the way things are done.”

Rigsadvokaten is now launching a pilot project in two police districts – which will soon be extended across the country – that hopes to reduce the number of suspects held on remand by improving the working procedures of the police.

“We want to tidy up the cases in which the police cannot adequately explain why the case is taking so long to investigate,” Ole Hasselgaard, a public prosecutor at Rigsadvokaten, told Berlingske newspaper. “When someone is held on remand, it shouldn’t lead the police and prosecutor to think that the pressure to get moving on the investigation is eased because the suspect isn’t going anywhere.”

Lawyer Henrik Stagetorn, the chairman of the association of defence lawyers, Landsforeningen af Forsvarsadvokater, argues that new guidelines are needed for how long a suspect can be held on the basis that they may disrupt an investigation.

“We need to look at two things,” Stagetorn told Berlingske. “The first is improving the efficiency of case work so that people are not kept jailed for so long. And secondly, we need to consider whether we are keeping too many people on remand.”

According to Mikael Sjöberg, the chairman of the judges' association, Dommerforeningen, the recent introduction of harsher sentences for certain crimes, such as weapons possession, means that more people are held automatically on remand.

A person held on remand is held for an average of 94.6 days. Those charged with sexual crimes tend to be held an average of 154.4 days, while suspected burglars tend be held for 60.6 days.

One in ten people held in remand will be held for over a year before facing trial, as was the case with the five men currently on trial for terrorism charges.