Brazil: Fair Trials calls for ban on videoconferencing in custody hearings

Article by Fair Trials

Fair Trials is calling for the Brazilian Senate to reject Presidential Veto n. 56/2019 in 2019, which is undermining the ban on videoconferencing in custody hearings.

This ban, which came into effect under Federal Law n. 13.964/2019, was an important step in the fight against the torture of detainees in Brazil. However, the Veto has allowed the almost continuous use of video hearings in custody hearings. As a result, Brazil’s House of Representatives overrode the Veto on March 17, 2021.

In a letter to the President of the Brazilian Federal State, Fair Trials called for the National Congress to put the Veto on their agenda in their reconvening on March 24, 2021. However, the Senate refused to include it and will not discuss the Veto for now. Fair Trials is calling for the express prohibition of video conference in custody hearings and for the override of the presidential veto.

Remote hearings and torture

Remote justice has proved to be gravely ineffective in the combat of the use of torture, especially against detainees not only in Brazil but across Latin American. The physical presence of a defense lawyer and a judicial authority, as well as access to independent medical examinations, can help to detect torture against detainees. Allowing remote hearings would be a setback in the fight against torture in custody.

The report “O Fim da Liberdade: A urgência de recuperar o sentido e a efetividade das audiências de custódia”, 1 published in 2019 by the Instituto de Defesa do Direito de Defesa IDDD, shows that one out of four people taken to custody hearings in Brazil say they had been subject to torture while detained. This high figure may be a serious underestimate. Despite the progress that custody hearings have brought to the fight against torture in Brazil, torture is not always addressed in custody hearings. Often the presence of police officers inside the courtroom, discourages people in custody who are already in a situation of vulnerability from reporting abuses perpetrated by law enforcement officers.

For the National Congress to reassure the prohibition on the use of videoconference in custody hearings would represent a great step in the fight towards a more democratic justice system, especially in Brazil, whose history has been gravely marked by episodes of state violence against citizens. It would also position Brazil as an international leader on the maintenance of procedural safeguards even in the face of the pandemic’s challenges to criminal legal systems.

Read our letter here