Koen Geens, the Minister for Justice, has stated that there is a need to review Belgium’s legal time limits for police custody. He indicated today (Friday) that he wishes there to be an extension of 48 hours, or even 72 hours for terrorism. However, he thinks 48 hours might to be enough in terrorism cases. He was speaking a few hours before a meeting of parliament’s Fight against Terrorism Committee.
Following the Paris attacks, the government expressed its wish, amongst other measures, to extend the police custody time limit in Belgium, currently 24 hours, to 72 hours.
To do this, it is necessary to review article 12 of the Constitution and thus obtain a two-thirds majority to approve the measure. In December 2015, the ruling coalition introduced a proposal along these lines, but up to now they have not been able to reach agreement with the opposition upon the text. After behind-the-scenes negotiations, the matter is now to go before the parliamentary committee.
It emerged from a series of hearings that prosecutors and investigating judges alike wish to extend the time limit for non-terrorism offences to 48 hours. However, opinions differ as to the extension to 72 hours specifically for terrorism offences.
During an interview given to the Belga press agency Mr Geens explained, “The current time limit is no longer appropriate for modern times, indeed for anywhere in the world. My preference is for 48 hours for non-terrorism offences, and 72 hours for terrorism offences.”
He went on, “…and I mean from 48 to 72 hours. I can live with just 48 hours, as long as there is a change implemented in some form to the custody time limit provisions. It is high time that this happened.”
The Minister stresses that this debate is not new. In March 2015, the time limit indeed featured in his Justice Strategy.