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The dark chamber of the Swiss prosecution system


August 2018.

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If a Swiss prosecutor wants to put somebody in custody during an investigation or needs to employ surveillance methods, he or she needs to get the okay of a so-called “Zwangsmassnahmengericht”, a special court responsible for these “compulsory measures” that need to be brought into force only in special circumstances.

These special courts have been put into action in the year 2011. Since then, they have assessed countless applications by state prosecutors, but have remained largely intransparent and secret – an actual “dark chamber”.

For the first time, my team has profoundly investigated the (often hidden) statistics behind the secret court orders. The number that resulted in the end is rather disquieting: 97 percent. That’s the ratio of applications that get accepted. In other words, state prosecutors almost always get a “thumbs up” for their invasive actions. In that sense, these rather new courts don’t really seem to be a barrier for law enforcement.

The research has stirred up quite some political uproar – many parliamentarians, for example, have assured us that they’d like to go over legislation and make some adjustments. Also, experts have came up with the idea of an attorney for human rights that should be heard during the decision making process.

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