A new system deactivating mobile phones in the immediate vicinity of the central prisons will be installed and go operational one-and-a-half years from now, Justice Minister Marios Hartsiotis told MPs on Thursday.

Hartsiotis was taking part in a session of the House audit committee, discussing the auditor-general’s annual report (for 2022) on the justice ministry.

The discussion covered an array of topics related to law enforcement and the legal system. Queried about the issue of inmates at the central prisons using mobile phones, Hartsiotis said the process of installing a new blocking system should be ready in a year’s time or 18 months at most.

The previous deactivation system had been problematic, the minister conceded.

The decision to install a system deactivating mobile phones at the prisons complex – to prevent inmates from engaging in clandestine communications with the outside world – dates back to 2015.

Three years later, in June 2018, the government awarded the contract to a private company. The contract stipulated that the deactivation system would be installed and go operational by September of the same year.

But a series of postponements led to the system being delivered in late October 2020. Meanwhile, the emergence of 5G technology made the system obsolete.

In February 2021, a new contract was signed with the company, providing for the upgrade to be completed by June 20 of 2022. Subsequently, three extensions were given to the company – August 2022, October 2022 and lastly November 2022.

However, that delivery deadline was not met either.

Moving on to the perennial issue of overcrowding at the prisons, the minister said steps are being taken to alleviate the problem – a new building is being erected at the site of the open prison, expected to be finished by this coming October. This would allow for the transfer there of some 240 inmates.

In addition, a completely new prisons complex is scheduled to be built by 2027.

In his remarks, Hartsiotis revealed that the justice ministry will soon begin drafting legislation concerning the functioning of the attorney-general’s office. It will be based on the findings of a study commissioned by the government, to which a number of legal scholars contributed.

“The attorney-general’s office has operated according to a specific model over the past 65 years,” the minister said. The effort now to change this model would amount to “one of the most radical legal matters that have ever concerned the country”.

He did not go into any details about the proposed changes.

Weighing in, Akel MP Irini Charalambidou said the main purpose must be the separation of powers – in that the attorney-general cannot continue to be the legal adviser to the state while also acting as the public prosecutor.