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What’s the role of civil society in ending unjustified pre-trial detention?

admin - January 30, 2019 - Pre-trial detention, Sustainable Development Agenda

 

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has produced a report, following a roundtable discussion on the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and pre-trial detention on 12 April 2018 in London. The meeting brought together civil society organisations from across the Commonwealth countries and reflected on their role in addressing pre-trial detention.

The overuse of pre-trial detention is not only a human rights violation but also both a cause and effect of poverty at national and individual level. The inclusion of an indicator regarding the proportion of prisoners in pre-trial detention in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a significant global recognition of the importance of pre-trial detention in the development context. Fair Trials has been leading work in an EU context over recent years to help make these issues a priority.

At the roundtable meeting, Maja Daruwala from CHRI initiated the discussion by giving some insights to the underlying causes behind the extensive use of pre-trial detention: archaic and weak laws which don’t provide for adequate accountability measures and short-sighted policy-making. When it comes to solutions, she emphasised the necessary role of civil society organisations working together in collecting and sharing data. Later during the discussion Thomas Smith from the University of the West of England (and a partner in Fair Trials earlier project on PTD across Europe) highlighted the importance of research but noted that official statistics are not enough since they provide little context and offer a poor basis for reformation.

Fair Trials’ report ‘A Measure of Last Resort? The practice of pre-trial detention decision-making in the EU’ from 2016, produced by partners in ten different EU countries, provides an example of a joint effort in collecting data on pre-trial detention. The study shows the extent to which pre-trial detention is being used all over the EU without adequate justification. Despite laws that in principle protect concepts like detention as a last resort, presumption of release, equality of arms, and proportionality, researchers across the studied jurisdictions found systematic failures to respect these standards effectively in practice. The report gives several recommendations, calling on the EU to put in place clear minimum standards limiting pre-trial detention to cases where it is properly justified, requiring the more effective use of alternatives and requiring proper, regular reviews of decisions to detain.

Focusing on the legal framework alone is not enough though, as Catherine Heard from the Institute of Criminal Policy Research pointed out in the meeting; working with defence lawyers is necessary in order to understand what’s going on the ground. This is one of the reasons that Fair Trials developed the Legal Experts Advisory Panel (LEAP), an EU-wide network of fair trials defenders who are working with us to analyse the problems in practice with pre-trial detention in their own countries and, crucially, to design targeted solutions. Informed by their experience, we have helped to secure new laws that will give defence lawyers access to the information they need to challenge detention.

Ending unjustified pre-trial detention will require a variety of solutions on different levels, including properly trained defence lawyers, clearer legal rules that are easier to apply and enforce, and the development of fair and workable alternatives to detention. Crucially, these must be adapted to local needs and challenges. In this process, the importance of international civil society cooperation cannot be emphasised enough.

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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