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NEWS

Fair Trials joins forces with other NGOs to combat pre-trial detention in the Commonwealth

editor - March 7, 2018

On 13th April 2018, Fair Trials is teaming up with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Open Society Justice Initiative, Penal Reform International, the Institute of Criminal Policy & Research and the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime to hold a panel event on the overuse of pre-trial detention in the Commonwealth. The event will take place on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in April 2018, and will aim to discuss why, how, and with what impact, countries in the Commonwealth have undertaken reforms to reduce prison populations and improve prison systems.

If you’re interested in attending the event, please sign up here.

Background

Almost 15% of the world's prison population is in the Commonwealth countries, and a large number of these 1.4 million prisoners are being held in pre-trial detention. Not only does the overuse of pre-trial detention undermine rule of law and impact fair trial rights, but it also leads to overcrowded and degrading conditions of detention, and can impose an enormous burden on public spending. For example, figures from 2012 showed that over 54% of detainees in Antigua and Bermuda were in pre-trial detention, even though prison occupancy was at 240%. If left unattended, excessive pre-trial detention (coupled as it so often is with unfair and unwarranted arrests), can become a factor in perpetuating injustice and eroding faith in criminal justice systems.

Although international law clearly states that pre-trial detention should be used as the last resort in criminal proceedings, incarceration trends across the Commonwealth throw up uncomfortable figures. In 25 of the 53 Commonwealth countries, the pre-trial detention rates are above 30%. For instance, 77.7% of prisoners in Bangladesh are pre-trial detainees, followed closely by Pakistan, Nigeria and India at 69.1%, 67.5% and 67.2% respectively. A myriad of factors contribute to the continued increase in incarceration rates and excessive lengths of detention, which range from unnecessary arrests, lack of effective legal representation and underutilization of bail provisions to excessive delays in completing trials.

Overburdened criminal justice systems and high levels of poverty often serve to exacerbate these circumstances. Reduction in these numbers requires an integrated approach by nations, which may include incorporating checks and safeguards at every step of the trial process.  Developing countries in particular – a category which the majority of Commonwealth member states fall into – struggle to overcome these issues in isolation of each other. Yet, sharing good practice among countries with a common legal heritage has the obvious possibility of raising international awareness of the problem whilst assisting in finding solutions that work across jurisdictions.

If you’re interested in hearing more on this issue, make sure you join us on the 13th April from 12:00-2:00 pm at Clifford Chance in London.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

For regular updates follow Fair Trials on Twitter and Facebook or sign up to our newsletter at the bottom of the page.

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If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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