Thursday, June 7, 2012

First International Principles and Guidelines on Indigent Defense

Recognizing that criminal legal aid – or indigent defense – “is an essential element of a fair, humane and efficient criminal justice system that is based on the rule of law,” the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (the UN Crime Commission) adopted the first international principles and guidelines on indigent defense at its recently concluded 21st session. The United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems affirm the importance of legal aid at all stages of the criminal justice system.
In summary, the UN Guidelines call for international standards of basic due process rights for the criminally accused including the right to legal aid, the right to have a fair and public hearing, and speedy trial. Here is an excerpt from the preamble. The General Assembly, Recalling the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,1 which enshrines the key principles of equality before the law and the presumption of innocence, as well as the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, established by law, along with all the guarantees necessary for the defence of anyone charged with a penal offence, other minimum guarantees and the entitlement to be tried without undue delay, Recalling also the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,2 in particular article 14, which states that everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be entitled to be tried in his or her presence and to defend him or herself in person or through legal assistance of his or her own choosing or assigned to him or her where the interests of justice so require, in a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.

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