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Our mission is global but we are currently focused on campaigning for fair and equal justice systems in Europe, Latin America, the UK and the US.
Across Europe, thousands of people being held in prison for months, and sometimes years, while waiting for a trial. This not only undermines their right to a fair trial and to liberty, but is contributing to overcrowding and inhuman and degrading conditions in Europe’s prisons. Pre-trial detention also reflects the discrimination that is embedded in the practices and functioning of Europe’s criminal justice systems. These disparities risk and in some cases are already being reinforced by the increased use of artificial intelligence to make decisions about policing, arrests, release and sentencing. The increased use of criminal law and powers, most recently in the context of the Covid-19 health pandemic, is resulting in overcriminalisation and the prosecution of minor offences. Criminal justice systems cannot cope with the number of cases they have to process and countries are increasingly resorting to trial waivers systems and fast-track proceedings where people can be coerced to give up their right to a full trial.
Torture by law enforcement officials, including police officers and prison guards, is a systemic problem in many central and Latin American countries. Torture is used to extract confessions, which are admitted in court, resulting in unfair trials and miscarriages of justice. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been a rapid expansion of the use of remote technology in criminal proceedings across the region. There is the risk that the use of video hearings will continue to expand and become the norm after the pandemic has ended, which would be a huge setback in the fight against torture.
UK’s criminal justice systems are facing an unprecedented crisis. Over a decade of funding cuts have left courts buckling under the pressure of a growing backlog of cases, and increasing numbers of people are left without the support they need to defend themselves, due to the neglect of legal aid. The UK now has one of the highest prison populations in Europe, which includes thousands of people who haven’t been convicted of a crime but are waiting months, and even years, for a trial. We need to tackle the underlying causes of these problems, but instead we’re constantly facing new laws and policies that push for more crime, more policing, and more ‘efficiency’. These are threatening the right to a fair trial and reinforcing the discrimination that is embedded in the UK’s criminal justice systems.
America’s criminal legal system is in urgent need of reform. The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world with 2.3 million people currently in prison, which is 25% of the world’s prison population. Overcriminalisation including ‘tough on crime’ legislation and the ‘war on drugs’ means that US courts are overwhelmed. This, and excessive sentencing, have led to a situation where the US now resolves 97% of criminal cases through plea bargaining. America’s criminal legal system is inherently racist, with Black, Latino and other people from minoritised groups are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement and more likely to be subjected to police brutality.