The House of Representatives’ Justice, Legislation, and Human Rights Committee approved law 43.22 this week, pertaining to alternative penalties, submitted and strongly defended by Minister of Justice Abdellatif Ouahbi.
In an interview with MoroccoLatestNews English, Loubna Srhiri, deputy chairperson of the committee and lawyer said that, “the alternative penalties law came at the right time and in the context of the High Commissioner for Prison Management’s announcement that the prison overcrowding is excessive and daunting.”
Srhiri added, “however, as a country of justice and law, we should strive to advance our youth rather than build more prisons for them.”
“In reality, we encounter individuals who are not criminals. In the field of criminology, there is not only one single category of criminals. There are accidental criminals, for example, placed under suspicion by circumstances. Sometimes, they may endure a prison sentence of one or two years, only to later be found innocent,” Srhiri said.
Regarding the role of alternative sentencing, Srhiri said that the role of alternative penalties is to substitute the original punishment imposed by the judge by 3 alternatives: either by providing public benefit, using electronic monitoring devices, or depriving the individual of certain rights.
The deputy further elaborated, “however, these alternative penalties are only applied in cases mentioned in Article 2 of the bill, which stipulates that for all verdicts, issued with a sentence of less than five years, the judge has the authority to apply alternative penalties.”
The judge, according to Srhiri, exercises discretionary power in this matter, as they do not live in an ivory tower but are familiar with the concerns and issues of citizens.
The judge takes into consideration the individual’s circumstances and whether they are prone to criminal behavior.
The lawyer pointed out a specific example saying, ‘for example, there are students whose families provide them with motorcycles for easier transportation to universities or schools. If the person unknowingly transports someone who commits theft, the motorcycle owner can be considered an accomplice, even if he had no knowledge of the crime. This turns the situation from a misdemeanor to a described crime. But how can the motorcycle owner prove their innocence in court?’
Regarding the scope of the alternative penalties bill, she remarked, “we believe that alternative penalties for crimes with sentences less than five years are a valuable asset that the state can benefit from. Even though we, in the Progressive and Socialist Party, argue that not only misdemeanors should be eligible for alternative penalties but also certain crimes, as there are crimes with sentences of one and a half to two years.”
Srhiri further discussed the limitations of the law stating, “the law draft includes a range of offenses where alternative penalties cannot be applied, such as violence against women.”
After years of civil society activism and women’s movements and the enactment of laws punishing violence against women, it is inconceivable that an individual could be granted an alternative penalty in such cases, according to Sghiri.
The same goes for offenses committed against children.
Regarding the controversy surrounding daily fines, Srhiri emphasized, “what stirred controversy is the issue of daily fines ranging from MAD 100 to MAD 2,000. We, in the opposition, objected to this amendment.”
The initial version of the draft law did not include what is called “buying prison days” penalty as an alternative, as it had been rejected by the parliament’s previous deliberations.
However, the majority government factions proposed this amendment and the Minister of Justice accepted it.
Ouahbi defended the controversial amendment, asserting that “this privilege cannot be exploited by the accused more than once and it depends on reaching an agreement or settlement in the case.”
Some argued that this will be a source of revenue for the state, but “we, in the opposition, believe that the state does not need such sources for revenue,” Srhiri said.
Opponents of the amendment said that it would primarily benefit the wealthy and could potentially lead to the wealthy buying their way out of prison, while ordinary citizens would continue to serve time in prisons.
The Socialist Union and the Justice and Development Party have submitted a request stating that alternative penalties should be applied in cases with sentences not exceeding two years, instead of five years.
In this regard Srhiri said “I believe that the five-year threshold will not significantly impact the deterrent function of prison, as alternative penalties will not apply for repeat offenders or those with clear criminal intent. We should not forget that alternative penalties are subject to the judge’s discretionary power.”
Srhiri concluded the interview by recounting a poignant anecdote, saying, “A retired criminal court judge told me that, while presiding over criminal cases, he would adjourn the session, go to the restroom, cry, and then return to the session because he used to examine the cases of young people who were “victims of circumstances”, placed under suspicion solely because of their association with someone who committed a crime.”
Srhiri said that alternative penalties come as a blessing for such cases, and is the appropriate solution to save individuals whose incarceration would be a loss to their families and the country.