Morocco: reform the criminal justice system and enhance pre-trial guarantees and procedures

Middle East and North Africa
Document Type: Analysis Brief
Date: 2017

The ICJ today called on the Moroccan authorities to comprehensively reform its legal framework on pre-trial rights, guarantees and procedures, with a view to ensuring its full compliance with international human rights law and standards.

The statement came following a high-level mission to Morocco from 24 to 27 April 2017. The ICJ consulted with members of the Parliament and of the judiciary, as well as with executive officials, on the reforms needed to enhance the guarantees and procedures on police custody and preventive detention, as well as to effectively protect the right to liberty and security of person.

During the mission, the ICJ launched its paper Reform the Criminal Justice System in morocco; Strengthen pre-trial rights, guarantees and procedures which details how the use of pre-trial detention has been routine in Morocco.

The paper also points out that investigative judges and prosecutors routinely disregard provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure that provide for pre-trial detention to be used only in exceptional cases.

Pre-trial detainees represent more than 40 percent of the prison population and most of the time convicted and pre-trial detainees are not kept separate, in violation of the latter’s right to be presumed innocent.

“Morocco must comply with its international legal obligations and ensure that pre-trial detention is an exceptional measure that can be used only as a measure of last resort, when there is sufficient evidence that deems it necessary to prevent flight, interference with evidence or the recurrence of crime,” said Said Benarbia, director of the ICJ MENA Programme.

The briefing paper also details how the Morocco Code of Criminal Procedure fails to provide for a means by which all individuals deprived of their liberty can, from the outset of the deprivation of their liberty, bring proceedings before an independent and impartial court able to determine, without delay, the lawfulness of their detention.

The provisions on police custody also fail to comply with Morocco’s obligations under international law.

Under the current framework, in ordinary cases of felonies and misdemeanors punishable with prison time, a person can be placed under garde à vue for up to three days without being brought before a judge; for up to eight days in cases of “internal or external threats against national security”; and for up to 12 days in cases of “terrorism.”

“The grounds for placing individuals under police custody must be clearly and precisely defined in the law, and include elements of appropriateness, predictability and due process of law,” said Benarbia.

“The maximum amount of time during which a person can be held in police custody without being brought physically before a judge must be reduced to the absolute minimum, and in ordinary cases no longer than 48 hours,” he added.

The ICJ also called on the Moroccan authorities to enhance defence rights during all pre-trial procedures, and remove all the obstacles that subject the exercise of these rights to the public prosecutor authorization, or that severely undermine the right to an effective counsel in proceedings before the investigative judges and prosecutors.

“The Moroccan authorities should ensure that anyone arrested or detained has immediate access to legal assistance as soon as they are placed in police custody, during the initial stages of police investigation, and before questioning by the investigative judge or prosecutor,” further said Benarbia.

“These guarantees are not only necessary to ensure the fairness of proceedings, including the principle of equality of arms, but they also serve as safeguards against arbitrary detention and torture and other ill-treatment in Morocco,” he added.


Said Benarbia, Director of the ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, t: +41.22.979.3817, e: said.benarbia(a)

Additional information

The mission was led by Martine Comte, honorary judge and former President of the Court of Appeal of Orléans, and included François Casassus-Builhe, former French judge, and prosecutor; Said Benarbia, director of the ICJ Middle East and North Africa (MENA) programme, and Giulia Soldan, programme manager of the ICJ MENA programme.

The ICJ delegation met with Mr. Habib El Malki; President of the Chamber of Deputies; Mr. Mohamed Aujjar, Minister of Justice; Mr. Mustapha Farès, First President of the Cassation Court; Mr. Mohamed Abdennabaoui, Prosecutor General of the Cassation Court; Mr. Driss El Yazami, President of the National Council of Human Rights; Mr. Mohamed Akdim, President of the Morocco Bar Associations; Mr. Adil El Bitar, President of the Commission on Justice, Legislation, and Human Rights at the Chamber of Deputies, Mr. Abdessamad Kayouh, Vice-President of the Chamber of Counselors, and representatives of the civil society and the criminal justice system.

Morocco-Reform crim just syst-News-press release-2017-ARA (news in Arabic, PDF)

Morocco-Reform Crim Justice System-Advocacy-Anaylsis Brief-2017-ENG (full brief in English, PDF)

Morocco-Reform Crim Justice System-Advocacy-Anaylsis Brief-2017-ARA (full brief in Arabic, PDF)

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