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Legal news from Saturday, February 17, 2007




Portugal PM expects new abortion law by end of March
Natalie Hrubos on February 17, 2007 4:09 PM ET

[JURIST] Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates [official profile] of the ruling Socialist party [party website, in Portuguese] said Saturday that the Portuguese Parliament [official website, in Portuguese] could pass legislation to loosen its strict abortion law [text, in Portuguese] by the end of March. Low voter turnout undermined [JURIST report] last week's referendum on easing the abortion law, but the government has nonetheless vowed to seek approval [JURIST report] of the changes in parliament. Approximately 59 percent of voters were in favor of loosening restrictions against abortion, while 41 percent voted to keep abortion illegal. Only 40 percent of the population turned out, less than the 50 percent threshold requirement to support a change in the law.

The country's new abortion law would allow abortions in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, while the current law only allows abortions in order to save the woman's life, in rape cases, or if the baby will be born with a deformity or incurable disease. AP has more.






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Philippines urged to drop sedition charges against journalists
Natalie Hrubos on February 17, 2007 3:48 PM ET

[JURIST] The Committee to Protect Journalists [advocacy website] urged the Philippines government Friday to drop sedition charges [press release] against Daily Tribune [media website] publisher Ninez Cacho-Olivarez [profile] and columnists Ramon Seneres and Herman Tiu-Laurel. The journalists were charged with incitement to sedition [SEAPA report] earlier this week for having "continuously maligned and undermined the present administration."

The journalists wrote articles criticizing the administration of Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo [official website], which the government says will "lead or stir up the people against the lawful authorities." Authorities began investigating the three journalists after police raided the Tribune's Manila office in February 2006. AP has more.






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Courthouse bombing leaves 15 dead in Pakistan
Michael Sung on February 17, 2007 11:21 AM ET

[JURIST] A Pakistani judge, five lawyers, court officials and relatives of prisoners on trial were among 15 people killed when a suicide bomber attacked a district court while it was in session in Quetta, Pakistan on Saturday. Over 24 were wounded and authorities have not yet determined who was responsible for the attack.

On Thursday, Pakistani police announced the arrest of five suspected militants from the southern city of Karachi and Rawalpindi, who were allegedly planning suicide attacks on foreigners and minority Shi'a Muslims in the neighboring Sindh province. Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan province, a region in southwest Pakistan [JURIST news archive] that borders Afghanistan and Iran that has experienced civil strife between the Baloch, Pashtuns and the Pakistani government in Islamabad. AP has more. The Nation has local coverage.






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New Jersey to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages, civil unions
Michael Sung on February 17, 2007 10:50 AM ET

[JURIST] New Jersey Attorney General Stuart Rabner [official profile] issued an opinion [PDF text; press release] Friday concluding that same-sex marriages and civil unions [JURIST news archives] from out-of-state jurisdictions will be afforded "all of the rights and benefits of marriage" under New Jersey's civil unions law [PDF text] that will come into effect on Monday, February 19. Same-sex civil unions recognized by Vermont and Connecticut, as well as same-sex partnerships under California law, will be treated as equivalents of civil unions in New Jersey. Same-sex marriages are legal in Massachusetts, Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa and Spain. Ed Barocas, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey [advocacy website] characterized [press release] the decision as "a momentous day in the fight for equality and respect for all New Jersey families... however, there still exists a two-tiered system of rights, and separate is never equal." Domestic partnerships in other jurisdictions that have less rights and benefits than marriage, will be considered domestic partners in New Jersey.

New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine [official website] signed [JURIST report] the state's civil union legislation into law in December 2006. The civil unions bill was passed in compliance with a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling [JURIST report] in October that said the state legislature had 180 days to decide whether the state would recognize same-sex marriage or another form of civil partnership. AP has more.






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Federal judge rules Padilla military prison staff must testify in competency hearing
Michael Sung on February 17, 2007 9:49 AM ET

[JURIST] US District Judge Marcia Cooke [official profile] ruled Friday that US military lawyer, prison doctors and staff must testify at a hearing next week concerning the treatment of Jose Padilla [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] while under military custody. Cooke determined that because the US Bureau of Prisons [official website] evaluation that concluded Padilla was fit to stand trial [JURIST report] partially relied on a psychiatrist's conversations with military prison doctors and staff, their testimony was relevant for the court to determine Padilla's mental competency. Anthony Natale, one of Padilla's lawyers, told Reuters that most of the doctors and staff have refused or have been denied permission to speak with defense lawyers. Natale also said two years of medical records maintained while Padilla was under military custody were missing.

Padilla, a US citizen, was arrested in 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and subsequently detained as an "enemy combatant" [JURIST news archive] at a Navy military brig in Charleston, South Carolina. Padilla, initially accused of planning to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb" [NRC factsheet] in the United States, was finally charged [JURIST report] in November 2005 on unrelated counts. He was transferred to civilian custody [JURIST report] in January 2006 and has pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to the charges. In December 2006, Padilla's defense team filed a motion seeking a competency hearing [JURIST report] to determine whether he should stand trial after evaluations by a psychiatrist and clinical psychologist suggested that Padilla is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his years in detention, which is affecting his ability to assist in his defense. Reuters has more.






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