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The Global Legal Monitor is an online publication from the Law Library of Congress covering legal news and developments worldwide. It is updated frequently and draws on information from official national legal publications and reliable press sources. You can find previous news by searching the Global Legal Monitor.

Switzerland: Rules on Accelerated Asylum Procedures Enter into Force

(Apr. 19, 2019) On March 1, 2019, new rules on accelerated asylum procedures entered into force in Switzerland. (Press Release, Bundesrat [Federal Council], Starting on March 1, 2019: New, Accelerated Asylum Procedures (Feb. 28, 2019), Federal Council website (in German); Asylum Act, June 26, 1998, SYSTEMATIC COLLECTION OF LAWS 142.31, art. 24, arts. 26b–26d, Federal Council website (in German).)

The new rules provide that the majority of asylum procedures must be completed within 140 days. During that time, asylum seekers are to stay in Federal Processing Centers that are run by the Swiss State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) and located in six regions in Switzerland. (Asylum Act art. 24.) For that purpose, 5000 new places in processing centers are to be created by the end of 2019. (Press Release, supra.) In order to comply with the rule of law despite the new short deadlines, all asylum seekers whose application is examined under the accelerated procedure have a right to free counselling and free legal representation from the beginning onward. (Asylum Act arts. 102f, 102h.) If an accelerated procedure is not possible because further inquiries need to be made, the asylum seeker is to be assigned to one of the Swiss cantons for further processing (extended procedure). (Id. art. 26d.) The timeline for an extended asylum procedure is one year, which includes the appeals procedure. (Press Release, supra.)

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Finland: Parliament Revokes Law Exempting Jehovah’s Witnesses from Mandatory Military Service

(Apr. 18, 2019) On February 27, 2019, the Finnish Parliament voted to amend its mandatory military service law by revoking a more than thirty-year-old exemption for Jehovah’s Witnesses from basic military training. (Item in the Minutes PR 166/2018 rd, Government Bill for Parliament with Proposed Laws on Revoking the Act Exempting Jehovah’s Witnesses from Performing Mandatory Military Service, Finnish Parliament website (all sources cited are in Swedish unless otherwise noted).) The Government had proposed the change on September 20, 2018. (Government Bill RP 139/2018 rd, Finnish Parliament website.)

Mandatory Military Service Legislation 

In accordance with the Finnish Constitution, all Finnish citizens must participate in defending the motherland or assisting in its defense in the manner determined by law. (127 § 1 para. FINNISH CONSTITUTION, Finlex website.) The Finnish Mandatory Military Service Act mandates that all Finnish citizens between the ages of 18 and 60 be subject to Mandatory Military Service in the form of basic military training. (2 and 13 §§ Mandatory Military Service Act, FINLANDS FÖRFATTNINGSSAMLING [FFS] [FINNISH GAZETTE] 2007/1438, Finlex website.)

Males who have turned 18 are summoned for testing between August 15 and December 15 to determine if they will undergo basic military training. (Id. 13 §.) While technically all are required to complete the training, only a small number of Finnish youth—approximately 20,000—actually undergo the training annually. (RP 139/2018 rd.) The length of the training ranges from 165 days for soldiers to 347 days for officers. (37 § Mandatory Military Service Act.) Such service includes education and training in skill sets needed in case of war, such as weapons training. (Id. 38 §.)

Persons may be found to be ineligible to perform mandatory service because they lack the necessary physical or mental capabilities (id. 10 §) or excused from military service for financial or personal reasons such as studies (31 § Mandatory Military Service Act).

Persons who do not wish to perform military service may elect to perform civil service (without handling weapons) as described in the Civil Service Act. (Civil Service Act, FFS 28.12.2007/1446), Finlex website; Act Amending the Act Exempting Jehovah’s Witnesses from Performing Mandatory Military Service in Certain Cases, FFS 1992/1261, Finlex website.) The civil service requirement lasts for 347 days and can be completed at a government ministry or agency, municipal agency, religious affiliation, or private company that provides public services. (Id. 4 and 8 §§.) For example, one common venue for performing civil service is at schools.

Refusal to perform civil service instead of military service (totalvägran) is punishable by imprisonment, the duration of which should be half of the remaining assigned service period. (74 § Civil Service Act.)

Since 1987, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been explicitly excused from performing both mandatory military service and civil service. (9 § Act Exempting Jehovah’s Witnesses from Performing Mandatory Military Service in Certain Cases (FFS 645/1985), Finlex website; see also FFS 1992/1261 and FFS 2013/512.)

When the exception was proposed in 1985, almost all religious exceptions to military service were requested by Jehovah’s Witnesses. (1985 Parliament, Documents, A1 Government Bills 1–60 [1985 rd RP nr 7], Parliament website.)

The exception was thus based on the religious conviction of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as on their very small number. (1985 rd RP nr 7 at 2.) The Government at that time also specifically noted that, in accordance with Jehovah’s Witness rules on membership (as described when the Jehovah’s Witnesses registered as a faith-based society in Finland), a member could be expelled for “acting in violation of the community’s bylaws or against the leadership’s rules.” (Id.) Performing even civil service in lieu of military service violated the covenants of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Id. at 3.) Under the rules then in force, Jehovah’s Witnesses could forgo military service by applying for a three-year deferral, which was likely to be granted, every three years until they reached 28 years of age. (Id.) By granting members of Jehovah’s Witnesses a blanket exception, the Finnish Government thus made the exception application procedure easier for its members. (Id.)

Military Service Figures

Today, some 20,000 Finnish citizens undergo mandatory military training each year. Annually between 70 and 130 Jehovah’s Witnesses are excused. According to the 2018 Government Bill, approximately 3,300 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been excused from performing military service since the exemption was introduced. (RP 139/2018 rd.) In addition, approximately 30 to 50 persons who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to serve at all and, under current law, are subject to legal punishments in the form of prison sentences.

Reason for Revoking the Exception

The decision to revoke the exemption for members of Jehovah’s Witnesses and subject them to imprisonment for not performing civil service even though such acts violate their religious convictions is based on the legal precedent of a recent Helsinki Appeals Court case. The Court found that sentencing someone who was not a Jehovah Witness to prison in light of the Jehovah’s Witness exception was unconstitutional and violated the Constitution’s equal treatment provisions. (Helsinki Court of Appeals, HelHO 2018:4, R 16/738 Feb. 23, 2018 (in Finnish).) The case was appealed by the prosecutor to the Finnish Supreme Court, but leave for appeal was not granted. (Sarah Lang & Ann-Lis Fredriksson, Supreme Court Gives Finnish Man Right to Refuse to Perform Civil Service – Professor: Signal That Those Totally Refusing Service Can No Longer Be Sentenced to Imprisonment, YLE (Nov. 13, 2018).)

Legal Fallout

Because the Finnish Supreme Court refused to hear the case, the Finnish Parliament was left to determine whether only some who refused to perform civil service would face imprisonment or all who refused would face punishment. With the amendment to the Mandatory Military Service Act, Parliament has now chosen the latter course, making Jehovah’s Witnesses subject to the same sanctions as any other Finnish citizen. The Finnish Government argued that although there is an internationally recognized religious right to refuse military service that includes weapons training, there is no international right to refuse civil service in defense of one’s country. (RP 139/2018, para. 3.2.)

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New Zealand: Legislation Banning Certain Firearms, Magazines, and Parts Passed

(Apr. 17, 2019) On April 10, 2019, the New Zealand Parliament passed, with a vote of 119–1, the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill, which bans most semiautomatic firearms and assault rifles along with high-capacity magazines and parts that can be used to assemble prohibited firearms. (Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill, NEW ZEALAND PARLIAMENT (last visited Apr. 10, 2019); Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts Amendment Act 2019, New Zealand legislation website. See also Changes to Firearms Law – Prohibited Firearms, NEW ZEALAND POLICE (last updated Apr. 16, 2019).) The Bill received royal assent on April 11, 2019, with the amendments coming into force the following day.

Bill Process

The Bill was introduced on April 1, 2019, following an attack, on March 15, 2019, in which a gunman killed 50 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch. (Press Release, Stuart Nash, Tighter Gun Law to Enhance Public Safety (Apr. 1, 2019), New Zealand Government website.) Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Minister of Police, Stuart Nash, had officially announced the government’s intention to ban certain firearms, including the types used in the Christchurch attack, on March 21. (Press Release, Jacinda Ardern & Stuart Nash, New Zealand Bans Military Style Semi-Automatics and Assault Rifles (Mar. 21, 2019), New Zealand Government website.) This followed Cabinet decisions taken on March 18, three days after the attacks. (Id.)

The initial announcement stated that a bill would be introduced during the next sitting week of the Parliament, and that interim regulatory measures had been taken under the Arms Act 1983 to reclassify certain weapons as Military Style Semi-automatics (MSSAs), the purchase of which requires an “E endorsement” on firearms licenses, thereby immediately preventing their sale to standard license-holders. (Id.; Arms Act 1983, New Zealand Legislation website. For information on firearms law in New Zealand, see Kelly Buchanan, Firearms-Control Legislation and Policy: New Zealand (Law Library of Congress, Feb. 2013).)

Following the introduction of the Bill, the government moved that it be considered under the “urgency” procedures in the Parliament’s Standing Orders. (Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), Vol. 737 (Apr. 2, 2019), Chris Hipkins (Leader of the House), Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts ) Amendment Bill – Procedure.) This allows a bill to be “proceeded with to a completion at that sitting of the House, and the sitting is extended accordingly.” (New Zealand Parliament, Standing Orders 2017, SO 58(1). See also What is ‘Urgency’?, NEW ZEALAND PARLIAMENT (May 25, 2017).)

A truncated select committee process was conducted for the Bill, with a report-back date of April 8, 2019. (Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), Vol. 737 (Apr. 2, 2019), Stuart Nash (Minister of Police), Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill – First Reading.) The Finance and Expenditure Committee received more than 13,000 submissions on the Bill and held one day of hearings, with certain submitters invited to present their submissions to the Committee in person. Of the submissions received by the Committee, “about 60 percent supported the bill, 26 percent were opposed to the bill, and 14 percent expressed another view.” (Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill: Submissions and Advice, NEW ZEALAND PARLIAMENT (last visited Apr. 16, 2019); Finance and Expenditure Committee, New Zealand Parliament, Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill – Final Report 4 (Apr. 2019).)

The Committee recommended several amendments to the Bill. These included expanding a proposed exemption to the prohibitions on relevant firearms to allow their use by professional pest control businesses on private land, rather than only on Department of Conservation land; and “inserting an additional condition of endorsement for bona fide collectors of firearms into clause 31, to require the removed vital part of a prohibited firearm to be stored at a separate address, which would be regulated by the Police.” (Finance and Expenditure Committee, supra, at 4.) These and other changes recommended by the Committee were included in a Supplementary Order Paper that was approved during the Committee of the Whole House stage. (Supplementary Order Paper No. 201, Proposed Amendments to the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill.)

The Bill completed the Second Reading stage on April 9, and the Committee of the Whole House and Third Reading stages on April 10. (Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Billsupra.)

Amendments Contained in the Bill

The government’s press release announcing the introduction of the Bill stated that it would amend the Arms Act 1983 to

  • Ban semi-automatic weapons and military style semi-automatics (MSSAs)
  • Ban parts, magazines and ammunition which can be used to assemble a prohibited firearm or convert a lower-powered firearm into a semi-automatic
  • Ban pump action shotguns with more than a five shot capacity
  • Ban semi-automatic shotguns with a capacity to hold a detachable magazine, or with an internal magazine capable of holding more than five cartridges
  • Exempt some semi-automatic firearms, such as .22 calibres and shotguns, which have limited ammunition capacity
  • Create tougher penalties and introduce new offences
  • Create new definitions of prohibited firearms, prohibited magazines, prohibited parts and prohibited ammunition
  • Establish an amnesty for firearms owners who take steps to hand over unlawful weapons, parts, magazines and ammunition to Police by 30 September 2019 (Press Release, Stuart Nash, supra.)

Further information on the amendments was contained in the explanatory note that accompanied the Bill, which stated that

[t]he Bill seeks to remove semi-automatic firearms from circulation and use by the general population in New Zealand. The Bill achieves this by prohibiting semi-automatic firearms, magazines, and parts that can be used to assemble prohibited firearms.

The prohibition will include the existing category of semi-automatic firearms defined as Military Style Semi-Automatics (MSSAs), which are already subject to greater licensing controls under the Act compared with other types of firearms. The prohibition will extend beyond MSSAs to include most semi-automatic firearms, and some shotguns. Some small-calibre rimfire semi-automatic firearms and lesser-capacity shotguns are excluded from the prohibition. Those excluded firearms are commonly used in the farming, hunting, and recreational communities, and have a limited magazine capacity.

A small number of firearms licence holders are permitted under the Bill to import, sell, supply, and possess semi-automatic firearms and other items for genuine and justifiable reasons. They will need to apply to the Police to obtain the necessary approvals in order to qualify for the exemptions. (Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill, Government Bill 125-1, Explanatory Note.)

Buyback of Prohibited Firearms

The government’s press release upon the introduction of the Bill included the following statement regarding a proposed buyback of prohibited firearms by the government:

Police and the Treasury are working on the details of the buyback. The underlying principle is that fair and reasonable compensation will be paid. It will take into account the age and type of weapon, and the market value. It is estimated it will cost between $100 million and $200 million. (Press Release, Stuart Nash, supra.)

Following the initial announcements from the government regarding the law changes, the New Zealand Police published information regarding the initial and proposed changes and produced an online form related to handing firearms in to the Police. New frequently asked questions, published on April 11, 2019, state that

[t]he amnesty from prosecution for possession of prohibited firearms, parts, and magazines will run for six months from the time the buyback scheme is put in place by regulation.

Police encourages any person now in possession of a prohibited item to safely secure it and notify Police by completing the online form or calling 0800 311 311. This will enable Police to contact you in the future about the process for handing in your firearm/s and about the buyback for prohibited items.

Please do not hand your firearm/s into Police at this stage. (Firearms Changes FAQs, NEW ZEALAND POLICE (last updated Apr. 11, 2019).)

According to the Police, “[t]here have already been more than 1000 people who have notified us of their intention to hand over their firearms to Police.” (Id.) The site also indicates that there will be an appeals process as part of the buyback compensation scheme. (Id.)

Future Reforms

The government’s press release also indicated that further changes to the Arms Act, to be introduced later in 2019, would include

  • A register of firearms
  • Licensing of firearms owners and the Police vetting process for a ‘fit and proper person’
  • The Police inspection and monitoring regime, such as rules around storage of firearms (Press Release, Stuart Nash, supra.)

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Singapore: Payment Services Act Passed, Regulating Cryptocurrency Dealing or Exchange Services

(Apr. 17, 2019) On January 14, 2019, the Parliament of Singapore passed the Payment Services Act, bringing cryptocurrency dealing or exchange services under the supervision of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the city-state’s central bank and financial regulator. (Payment Services Act 2019, No. 2 of 2019 (Jan. 14, 2019, assented to by the President on Feb. 11, 2019), Singapore Statutes Online.)

The MAS has recognized that technology, in particular FinTech, or Financial Technology, is transforming the world of payments, while new payment methods also give rise to new risks. It therefore reviewed its regulatory framework applicable to payment systems and payment service providers and proposed a new regulatory framework. (MAS, “Payment Services Bill” – Second Reading Speech by Mr. Ong Ye Kung, Minister For Education, on Behalf of Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister-in-Charge of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (Jan. 14, 2019) (Second Reading Speech), MAS website.)

Under the Payment Services Act, any entity that provides any type of payment service needs a license entitling the entity to carry on a business providing that type of payment service, unless otherwise exempted. (Act § 5(1).) The Act regulates seven types of payment services, including the “digital payment token service.” (Act First Sched., Pt. 1.)

According to the MAS, the appropriate requirements for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) are to be imposed on relevant licensees through notices issued under the MAS Act. When the Payment Services Act takes effect, all providers of digital-payment-token dealing or exchange services in Singapore must meet the AML/CFT requirements. (Second Reading Speech, supra.)

According to the Act, a “digital payment token” means

any digital representation of value (other than an excluded digital representation of value) that —

(a)  is expressed as a unit;

(b)  is not denominated in any currency, and is not pegged by its issuer to any currency;

(c)  is, or is intended to be, a medium of exchange accepted by the public, or a section of the public, as payment for goods or services or for the discharge of a debt;

(d)  can be transferred, stored or traded electronically; and

(e)  satisfies such other characteristics as the Authority may prescribe. (Act § 2.)

According to the Minister for Education’s speech on behalf of the MAS Minister-in-Charge during the second reading of the Payment Services Bill, “digital payment token services” are “commonly understood as cryptocurrency dealing or exchange services.” The Minister stated that the MAS would become one of the first few financial services regulators in the world to introduce a regulatory framework for digital payment token services. (Id.)

The Payment Services Act and its subsidiary legislation, which would contain substantive license application forms, processes, and procedures, are expected to take effect in the later part of 2019. (Li Chuan Hsu et al., The Payment Services Act and How It Affects FinTech in Singapore, JDSUPRA (Mar. 26, 2019).)

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UAE: Court Orders Doctors to Pay Blood Money to Patient’s Family

(Apr. 16, 2019) On March 29, 2019, the United Arab Emirates Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi upheld the rulings of a criminal court of first instance and an appellate court to grant the family of a deceased patient the right to receive blood money. The Federal Supreme Court issued a decision ordering two Asian medical doctors each to pay a fine of 40,000 Emirati dirhams (AED) (about US$10,890) and AED200,000 (about US$54,443) in blood money to the family of a child who had died due to medical error and negligence after undergoing surgery. (Ahmed Abid, Two Doctors Convicted of Causing Death of a Child, ABU DHABI NEWS (Mar. 29, 2019) (in Arabic); Ismail Sebugwaawo, Doctors to Pay Dh 200,000 Blood Money for Causing Child’s Death in UAE, KHALEEJ TIMES (Apr. 3, 2019).)

Blood Money (Diyah) Under Islamic Law

The concept of diyah under Islamic law is monetary compensation paid by an individual who kills someone. (Diyah, in Encyclopedia Britannica (last updated June 4, 2015).) There are two cases when diyah is permissible:

Facts of the Case

The child, who was suffering from breathing problems, was taken to a hospital in a northern emirate for treatment and underwent surgery. (Sebugwaawo, supra.) The Public Prosecutor’s report states that during the surgery, the first doctor, the anesthesiologist, did not properly deal with the child’s hypoxia (abnormally low level of oxygen in the blood) and, insisting that the child’s condition was stable, allowed him to be transferred from the recovery room to the children’s ward without oxygen. (Abid, supra.) The second doctor neglected to check the percentage of oxygen in the child’s blood and intubate the child before he left the recovery room. (Aya Al-Deeb, Supreme Court Upholds Fine of 20,000 Dh Against Two Doctors, Along with Blood Money, AL-KHALEEJ (Mar. 29, 2019) (in Arabic).) According to the report, the failure of both doctors to provide the child with sufficient oxygen before discharging him from the hospital led to the deterioration of his condition and his death. (Abid, supra.)

Accused Doctors’ Defense

The doctors denied the accusation of medical negligence. They stressed that they had made all the required efforts to stabilize the patient’s condition and rejected the allegations that they had erred in the way they treated the patient. (Sebugwaawo, supra.)

Moreover, the second doctor stated that he does not share equal responsibility with the first and maintained that he was in charge of monitoring the patient’s condition only in the recovery room. Accordingly, his percentage of negligence was 30% while the first doctor should bear 70% of the responsibility. (Abid, supra.)

Report of the Medical Experts in the Case

The Court appointed a technical medical committee to evaluate the medical treatment adopted by the two doctors and submit a report to the Court. The medical committee’s report concluded that the doctors had failed to diagnose the patient accurately and take the measures required for treating this medical condition. (Al-Deeb, supra.)

The medical committee also stated in its report that the percentage of the oxygen in the patient’s blood started decreasing at the beginning of the surgery and was also unstable when the patient was in the recovery room. His condition was such that he should not have been transferred from the recovery room to the children’s ward of the hospital. (Abid, supra.)

Applicable Law

Law No. 4 of 2016 on Medical Liability applies to medical malpractice cases. Article 34 of the Law sanctions doctors who commit medical errors resulting in the loss of a patient’s life with a term of imprisonment of up to two years and/or a fine of up to AED500,000 (about US$136,105). (Law No. 4 of 2016, art. 34, AL-JARIDAH AL-RASMIYAH [OFFICIAL GAZETTE], vol. 601, 2 Aug. 2016), Dubai Health Authority website (in Arabic).)

Article 1 of Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 and its amendments state that Islamic law (Shari‘a) must apply to crimes requiring the payment of blood money. (Law No. 3 of 1987, AL-JARIDAH AL-RASMIYAH, vol. 182, 8 Dec. 1978.) Article 29 of Law No. 3 of 1978, as amended by Law No. 34 of 2005, provides that one or more of the following penalties may sanction an offense: imprisonment, a fine exceeding AED1,000 (about US$272), or blood money. (Law No. 34 of 2005 Amending Law No. 3 of 1987, art. 29, AL-JARIDAH AL RASMIYAH, vol. 441, 31 Dec. 2005), Abu Dhabi Judicial Department website (in Arabic).)

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