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NCAD welcomes proposed amendment on drug possession

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NCAD welcomes proposed amendment on drug possessionThe National Commission for Drugs Alcohol and other Dependencies (NCDAD) within the Ministry for Education, Employment and the Family welcomes the proposal by government that first-time offenders caught with drugs for their own personal use do not undergo court proceedings but is in the process of making proposals of how such individuals can be further engaged in interventions that will be more likely to secure a discontinuation of substance use and their integration in society.

The NCDAD has in the past three months drafted a proposal, which is currently at the legal office of the Commissioner of Police, for an Arrest Referral Scheme and Extra Judicial Body for processing first time offenders for drug offences (possession for personal use). The rationale behind this diversionary project is based on the following:

• The National Drugs Policy 2008 clearly directs for (a) the setting up of a drug court that streamlines drug offence cases (b) facilitating a restorative justice approach

• The National Youth Policy (2010) calls for diversionary tactics in relation to young people. In 2010 of all arrests made for possession, 275 (85%) were between the ages of 15 and 34, 46 of these were aged 30-34 (17% of the 275). While this project is not restricted to any age group it is anticipated that the bulk of its clients will in fact be young people defined in the youth policy as between the ages of 12 and 30.

• The number of pending drug offences before the Magistrate’s Court continues to increase weighting down on the effective delivery of justice. This increase clearly indicates that the machinery of justice is stretched and that a diversionary scheme would prove to be a welcome development in the field.

• Diversion from the formal Criminal Justice System (CJS) may indeed halt the progress of addictive and criminal careers among young people (Clark 1999, 2004).

• Immediate processing of cases outside the formal CJS relating to first time offenders will secure a more effective response from these offenders (Clark, 2004) and prove to be more cost effective than processing through the CJS.

• Diversion from the Criminal Justice System for first time offenders will result in more cost effective procedures relieving the burden both from the Police Force and the Courts

• Diversion will reduce the time between arrest and contact with service providers contributing to a higher rate of success in relation to desistance from substance use.

The current proposal attempts to combine an Arrest Referral Scheme (ARS) with a diversionary form of proceedings to an Extra Judicial Body (EJB) for the hearing of cases of first time offenders (possession for personal use).

Arrestees who are being investigated by the Malta Police for possession for personal use of an illicit substance/ licit substance without the control card (Chapters 31 and 101 of the Laws of Malta), will be approached during the arrest (at the Police Station or Police Head Quarters) by an Arrest Referral Officer (ARO) who will advise the arrested person, on the workings of the scheme. The ARO will ideally be an individual who is trained in the field of youth studies, addictive behaviour, delinquency and crime, motivational interviewing and also has some background in justice studies.

The arrested person will not be eligible to join the ARS if:

• the police ascertain that this is not the first conviction or he/she has any pending cases before the court for a crime punishable with imprisonment for more than six months

• the case is not deemed to be simple possession

The project proposal suggests that rather than simply being given a warning, the individual appears before an Extra Judicial Body (EJB) which shall be composed of:

• A chairperson assisted by two persons who have previous experience and special qualifications for dealing with problems of drug users

The EJB shall have the right to consult with the ARO and the police for any information and assistance it may require and shall make use of services by private bodies and agencies in the field of substance abuse. The chair of the EJB will be assisted by a team of professionals whose services are tendered out for the project.

The hearings will not take place at the Law Courts but in an informal and yet authoritative atmosphere.

After hearing the case the EJB will ascertain that the person concerned follows interventions that are deemed fit by the EJB and may include:

• brief crisis intervention

• motivational interviewing and drug counselling

• community service

• supervision

• leisure education

• clean urine for a stipulated number of months

• others

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