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NEWS

Fair Trials’ assistance reaches suspects worldwide

editor - September 25, 2013

Each week, Fair Trials is contacted by people of many different nationalities, all of whom are facing charges in a country other than their own. Our Assistance Coordinator Bruno Min explains how his team are able to help:

“Many people have heard stories of holidays gone horribly wrong - where an individual is left pleading their innocence in a faraway foreign jail. Few of us, however, stop to think about what we might do if we were arrested in an unfamiliar justice system.

For anyone in this situation it can be very difficult to uphold the most basic of rights, no matter which country they are in. Even within Europe, I regularly hear stories of people denied access to a translator or a lawyer, leaving them unable to understand the proceedings or challenge the allegations against them. A familiar example would be Andrew Symeou  (pictured) who reported that he and his friends faced violent mistreatment when they were arrested in Greece.

Over the past quarter alone, I have advised people caught up in 34 different criminal justice systems across the world, ranging from Senegal to Peru, and from Slovenia to Bangladesh. As our services are open to anyone (regardless of where they are from) our beneficiaries are a mixture of many different nationalities – 28 different passports in the past 3 months.

Perhaps the most important tools we can provide to someone in this situation are our Notes of Advice. These short booklets provide clear and accessible information on what is likely to happen in a particular country, or at a particular point of the criminal justice process. As well as being sent out directly by Fair Trials (we send around 40 a month) they are also given out by Ministries of Foreign Affairs during their initial prison visits to their nationals detained abroad.

The notes aim to give people an idea of what is likely to happen to them in practice. One thing we see in every continent (and our recent work on pre-trial detention is a good example of this) is just how often justice systems operate without regard to what is enshrined in domestic law. Our Notes draw on the input of expert local lawyers to provide realistic answers to commonly asked questions – such as “how long can I be held without trial?”.

Of course, not every case will be the same, and I am often contacted directly by clients and their families about entirely new problems. As a rule of thumb, these things are impossible to predict but, in the past 3 months, I was asked for advice on topics such as how to apply for early release in Brazil, and how to complain about a legal aid lawyer in Greece.”

A full list of the kind of support Fair Trials is able to provide is available here.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on 020 7822 2370 or 07950 849 851. For regular updates follow Fair Trials on Twitter or sign-up to our monthly bulletin at the bottom of the page.

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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