Preventive detention

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For the Norwegian equivalent of life imprisonment referred to as "preventive detention", see Life imprisonment in Norway.

Preventive detention is an imprisonment that is putatively justified for non-punitive purposes.

A related, but different form of detention, is detention of suspects or remand. In contrast to preventive detention, detention of suspects must quickly be followed by a criminal charge (or happen after the charge).

In most jurisdictions, people suffering from serious mental illness may be subject to involuntary commitment under mental health legislation. This is undertaken on health grounds or in order to protect the person or others. It does not strictly speaking constitute a form of preventive detention, because the person is detained for treatment and released once this has proven effective.

Specific jurisdictions[edit]


Australian laws authorize preventive detention in a variety of circumstances.[citation needed] For example, mandatory detention in Australia (a form of immigration detention) is applied to asylum seekers who arrive in Australian water or territory, until their status as an asylum seeker is established.


In Canada, anyone declared a dangerous offender by the courts is subject to an indefinite period of detention

Costa Rica[edit]

In Costa Rica, the 1998 Criminal Proceedings Code allows for a normal pre-trial "prisión preventiva" or remand[1] of 12 months if the person is considered a "flight risk", but if the case is declared "complex", it can be increased to up to three years and a half of imprisonment without conviction, or even more in some cases. As of 23 May 2013, over 3,000 people were in pre-trial detention.[1]


The police can detain people for 6 hours without involving the courts or pay compensation for wrongful arrest.[2] In relation to the ongoing gang war in Copenhagen between the biker gangs and second generation youth gangs it has been suggested to extend the 6 hour limit to several weeks.[3] Before the Copenhagen Climate Council a new set of emergency laws was introduced allowing the police to detain people for up to 12 hours without charging them for a crime.[4] Critics fear that they will remain as permanent laws when the summit is over.[5]


In Germany, "preventive detention" (German: Sicherungsverwahrung, §66 Strafgesetzbuch) has a similar meaning to that in New Zealand. Sicherungsverwahrung can only be imposed as part of a criminal sentence, and it is handed down to individuals who have committed a grave offence and are considered a danger to public safety. It is an indeterminate sentence that follows a regular jail sentence. To assure the suitability of the preventive detention, it has to be reviewed every two years to determine the ongoing threat posed by the individual. Preventive detention is typically served in regular prisons, though separated from regular prisoners and with certain privileges.

The Sicherungsverwahrung is usually imposed in the original verdict, but can be imposed later under certain circumstances. This practice of subsequent incapacitation orders was ruled a violation of Art 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights by the European Court of Human Rights.[6] Subsequently, a huge discussion in Germany over the handling of this verdict occurred. In reaction to this the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany issued a verdict on Sicherungsverwahrung in May 2011, deeming it unconstitutional.[7] In response, a new law regulating Sicherungsverwahrung was passed in November 2012 .[8]


In India, preventive detention can be extended for only six months. After three months, such a case is brought before an advisory board for review.

Preventive detention in India dates from British rule in the early 1800s, and continued with such laws as the Defence of India Act 1939 and the Preventive Detention Act 1950.[9]

The controversial Maintenance of Internal Security Act was enacted by Indian parliament during Indira Gandhi prime ministership in 1971, however it was amended several times during national emergency (1975-1977), leading to human right violations. It was subsequently repealed after Indira Gandhi lost the election in 1977, and the new government took over.[10]


In Malaysia the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) was a preventive detention law that was enacted after Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957. The ISA allowed for detention without trial or criminal charges under limited, legally defined circumstances. The ISA was invoked against terrorism activity and against anyone deemed a threat to national security. On 15 September 2011, Najib Razak, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, said that this legislation would be repealed and replaced by two new laws.[11]

On 17 April 2012, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) was approved by the Malaysian Parliament as a replacement for the ISA. It was given the Royal Assent on 18 June 2012 and gazetted on 22 June 2012.[12]

New Zealand[edit]

In New Zealand, "preventive detention" is an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment, second only to life imprisonment in terms of seriousness. It may be given to offenders aged 18 or over who are convicted of a qualifying sexual or violent offence, and the court is satisfied that the person is likely to commit another qualifying sexual or violent offence if they were given a determinate sentence of imprisonment.[13] Preventive detention has a minimum non-parole period of five years in prison, but the sentencing judge can extend this if they believe that the prisoner's history warrants it. A total of 314 people were serving terms of preventive detention in 2013, of whom 34 were on parole.[14]

Alfred Thomas Vincent has been in prison on preventive detention since 1968 and was still there as of 2015.[15]

South Africa[edit]

Under Apartheid, the government of South Africa used preventive detention laws to target its political opponents. These included, notably, the Terrorism Act of 1967, which gave police commanders the power to detain terrorists—or people with information about terrorists—without warrant.[16]

United Kingdom[edit]

England and Wales used to have provisions, introduced by the Labour Government in 2003, to deal with dangerous offenders similar to what is used in Canada. However, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 abolished what was called Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) without replacement, although offences committed prior to the coming into force of the 2012 Act may still trigger IPP.

United States[edit]

In the United States, the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right to "a speedy and public trial". Thus, arrested persons may not be held for extended periods of time without trial. However, since the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA), controversy has broken out as to whether or not the U.S. government now has the power to indefinitely detain citizens. Section 1021 and 1022 of the legislation enacted policies described by The Guardian as allowing indefinite detention "without trial [of] American terrorism suspects arrested on U.S. soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay".[17]

Convicted persons can be held indefinitely as a "dangerous offender".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "In Costa Rica 17 persons ordered daily to preventive detention". Q Media. 30 June 2013. Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  2. ^ The police law (Danish), Web page of the Danish police
  3. ^ S vil sætte bandekrigen bag tremmer, by Bente Lund, Denmarks Radio, February 22, 2009 (Danish)
  4. ^ Hårdt politisk opgør før Folketinget sagde ja til lømmelpakken, by Jens Ringberg, Denmarks Radio, November 26, 2009 (Danish)
  5. ^ Lømmelpakken bekymrer dommerne, Politiken, November 13, 2009 (Danish)
  6. ^ "HUDOC - European Court of Human Rights". Retrieved 1 February 2017. 
  7. ^ (, Deutsche Welle. "German court rules preventive detention unconstitutional - Germany - DW.COM - 04.05.2011". Retrieved 1 February 2017. 
  8. ^ Gesetz zur bundesrechtlichen Umsetzung des Abstandsgebotes im Recht der Sicherungsverwahrung (BR-Drs. 689/12) [1] (PDF; 266 kB)
  9. ^ A. Faizur Rahman, "Preventive detention an anachronism", The Hindu, 7 September 2004.
  10. ^ Saxena, Priti (1 January 2007). Preventive Detention and Human Rights. Deep & Deep Publications. pp. 99–. ISBN 978-81-7629-992-3. 
  11. ^ Internal Security Act to be abolished, says Najib, 15 September 2011,
  12. ^ Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012
  13. ^ "Sentencing Act 2002 No 9 (as at 22 December 2016), Public Act 87 Sentence of preventive detention – New Zealand Legislation". Retrieved 1 February 2017. 
  14. ^ Sharpe, Marty (17 July 2013). "A third of Kiwi life termers are out on parole". Retrieved 25 May 2015. 
  15. ^ Mussen, Deidre (11 October 2015). "New Zealand's longest serving prisoner gets half a century behind bars". Stuff. Retrieved 11 October 2015. 
  16. ^ Jonathan Cohen, "1967 Terrorism Act, No. 83 of 1967", South African History Online.
  17. ^ McGreal, C., "Military given go-ahead to detain US terrorist suspects without trial", The Guardian, 14 December 2011: [2].