Defending the
Human Right
to a
Fair Trial

Respect for the Right to Liberty

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“Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person” (Universal Declaration Art. 3)

Liberty is central to what it means to be human and is a basic human right in itself. It is also at the heart of the right to a fair trial because, in most countries, imprisonment (the deprivation of liberty) is the ultimate criminal sanction. This punishment can only be justified after a fair legal process.

The start of criminal proceedings is often marked by police arrest. This temporary loss of liberty may be entirely justified and authorized by law, but arbitrary arrests have long been a feature of dictatorships and remain common today. To protect against this, people taken into custody must be given reasons for their arrest and be taken promptly before a court. The right for detainees to test the legality of their detention in court (sometimes known as “Habeas Corpus”) is also an important safeguard against torture.

Extended periods of pre-trial detention are also common for people that have not been convicted of any criminal offence, many of whom will ultimately be cleared of any wrongdoing. This can be justified to ensure vital evidence is preserved or to protect witnesses but if not strictly necessary, pre-trial detention violates the right to liberty and the presumption of innocence. People also have a right to be tried without undue delay to minimize pre-trial detention and reduce the human impact of criminal proceedings.

People in detention are entitled to humane conditions where their essential needs are met and, except in extreme circumstances and for a limited time, have a right of access to the outside world, including the right to communicate with family and a lawyer. This is not only crucial to a person’s well-being, but is an important safeguard against the mistreatment, which is common for people in incommunicado detention, and is crucial to give people a fair chance to present a defence.