The right to a fair trial should become a reality in Tunisia

TunisiaNewsTransitional justice

Tunis, 14 February 2014 – Everyone looking for justice must be guaranteed the right to a fair trial as defined by international standards. This is what the “Réseau d’Observation de la Justice” (ROJ or the Observation Network of Tunisian Justice), created by Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) in partnership with the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) and the Tunisian National Association of Lawyers (ONAT), is calling for. Its final report contains proposals for several partial reforms to the penal process and changes to certain practices undertaken by judges, prosecutors and lawyers.

The ROJ was launched in 2012 to examine any failures on the part of the Tunisian justice system to offer the right to a fair trial during this transitional period. In order to make this project a reality, 200 observers from both civil society and the Tunisian Bar have been trained on how international standards related to fair trials are implemented and have been tasked with observing the way in which justice works. Between 2012 and 2013, 171 hearings of 94 trials were observed and 780 inadequacies were reported to the ROJ.

The ROJ report emphasises the issues faced when applying international standards in Tunisia. “The problem doesn’t really lie with national law or international standards. We have found that the main contradictions to standards lie in current practices, and it is here that they are being flaunted”, commented a criminal lawyer working in the ROJ. “Many of these divergences from the law have a negative impact on the person on trial.” One observation showed that the right to attorney – a fundamental element of access to justice – is not currently guaranteed in all cases. Several reforms should be put into place in order to create a non-discriminatory system of legal aid which works to benefit all seekers of justice. On this point, the ROJ welcomes the recent adoption of Article 108 of the new Constitution which foresees simplified access to justice and assures legal representation for even the poorest.

The report also points out a number of problems faced by people being held in custody. Tunisian law does not systematically require a lawyer to be present at this key stage in the penal process. Yet, experience in other countries shows that their presence may protect the rights of the accused and could prevent instances of police brutality, without hindering the inquiry process. The ROJ therefore encourages a reform of the current penal procedural code in order to provide systematic access to legal representation for all people held in custody.

“This third and final report by the ROJ concludes an important phase in the monitoring process of justice in Tunisia. We would like to thank all observers for their work”, said Federica Riccardi, head of the ASF mission in Tunis. “The next step is to advocate these ideas in order to make sure that the recommendations are effectively put into place. We, along with our partners, hope to actively contribute to the creation of impartial justice and guaranteed rights and freedoms for all people seeking justice, including the most vulnerable and marginalised groups.”

The project is funded with the support of the Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Open Society Foundation and the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations of the German Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The report is also available in Arabic.