According to the World Prison Brief, approximately 11 million people are in prison globally, including pre-trial detainees and those on remand. While ideally prisoners are detained legally, under conditions that meet international standards and following a conviction process that is fair, this is not always the case. Pre-trial detainees incarcerated for lengthy periods, individuals subsequently proven innocent, cruel or inhumane conditions and other issues are rife in prisons all over the world.
Recommendations to improve pre-trial detention standards in Ethiopia
On behalf of the Public International Law Policy Group (PILPG), a global pro bono law firm working to support peace negotiations and post-conflict constitutions, lawyers from our London, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Moscow, New York and Washington, DC offices prepared a detailed memo analyzing Ethiopia’s relevant laws and jurisprudence on pre-trial detention and international human rights standards. While the country’s legal framework supports the rights of detained persons awaiting trial, key human rights concerns are highlighted. The PILPG report recommends the development of legislation with “specific requirements the detention centers must meet to prevent overcrowding, violence against detainees and other issues” as well as the enforcement of existing legislation to prevent torture and arbitrary arrest and detention practices.
Reforming a notorious supermax prison in the United States
We are acting in two cases in Virginia—representing a client who has served 12 years in solitary confinement while facing a total sentence of 31 years, and working with the American Civil Liberties Union to bring a class action suit against the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) for its use of long-term solitary confinement at two supermax prisons.
Professional support lawyer Charles Moore and associate Maxwell Kalmann, both in our Washington, DC office, supervised by partner Daniel Levin and supported by lawyers from our US and London offices, and dozens of amici curiae, argued two separate appeals before the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in which they brought constitutional challenges against the client’s conditions of solitary confinement, VADOC’s procedures for deciding if the client could leave solitary confinement and the adequacy of VADOC’s medical care. After a spirited oral argument, the Fourth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the first case challenging VADOC’s solitary confinement conditions and procedures. In the second narrower appeal relating to medical care, the Fourth Circuit held that the client’s allegations regarding the lack of mental health, if true, would violate the Constitution. The parties reached a resolution of the mental health care lawsuit.
The class action suit, which Maxwell devised and is helping to lead, challenges VADOC’s pattern of retaining prisoners in years-long solitary confinement even if they pose no legitimate risk to the prison population and could be managed by other, less harmful methods. Our intensive scrutiny of the Red Onion State Prison (a supermax prison) has already led to preemptive reforms, but we continue to prepare to take the case to trial.
Defining and measuring the quality of criminal legal aid in 19 countries
The International Legal Foundation (ILF) works to ensure high-quality legal representation for everyone arrested or detained, providing criminal defense services and building sustainable, effective legal aid institutions around the world. Forty-six lawyers from 15 offices undertook an ambitious research project to analyze how legal aid services are provided in 19 countries, with the goal of helping ILF create consensus on best practices to define and measure the quality of criminal legal aid services. The ILF shared this research with hundreds of government officials, international legal experts and public defenders from more than 50 countries at the Third International Conference on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems. Conference participants adopted the Tbilisi Declaration calling for “clear performance standards and guidelines that set the minimum activities necessary for providing quality legal aid services.” The ILF continues to use this research in advocacy with UN bodies and UN Member States as it makes the case for global quality legal aid standards to protect poor and vulnerable individuals accused of a crime.
2019 Exceptional Service Award from The American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Representation Project
The American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Representation Project recognized White & Case with its 2019 Exceptional Service Award for our pro bono commitment to death penalty representation. White & Case teams have been involved in six death penalty cases in the past six years, as habeas counsel, post-conviction counsel and amicus counsel. In this time, nearly 200 lawyers and staff from 14 offices have devoted approximately 15,000 pro bono hours to these matters. The Firm’s efforts on these six cases have resulted in, or significantly contributed to, three inmates—in Texas, South Carolina and Tennessee—being freed from death row. Legal teams are currently seeking to exonerate two other death row defendants in Mississippi and Texas.
Victim and witness protection
Assessing protections for witnesses in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon
Following the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and the deaths of 21 others, and other connected attacks, a resolution of the UN Security Council formed the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) to investigate and prosecute those responsible. Set up as a hybrid tribunal, it includes elements of both international and Lebanese law, with victims and witnesses playing a crucial role in providing evidence. Ensuring these victims and witnesses feel safe is crucial, and their protection was included in the STL’s statute. Supervised by London partner Charbel Abou Charaf, lawyers from our Doha, Geneva, London, Miami, New York and Washington, DC offices identified and analyzed these protective measures at the request of PILPG. Encouragingly, our report found that the STL’s protections allow “victims to participate in proceedings to a greater degree than previously seen in international tribunals of this nature and to express the pain and injustice they suffered at the hands of the accused.”
Improving the odds of compensation for exonerated prisoners in the UK
Partner John Reynolds and associate Alexa Romanelli from our London office represented JUSTICE, a UK law reform and human rights organization, when it was granted permission to intervene in a UK Supreme Court case considering the issue of compensation for miscarriages of justice. This action followed the launch of a report, “Supporting Exonerees: Ensuring Accessible, Consistent and Continuing Support,” by JUSTICE in April 2018, for which our UK lawyers also contributed research. While approximately 25 people annually are exonerated, almost no support is provided subsequently due to an unreasonably high threshold for compensation, leading to fewer than ten successful compensation applications in the past six years.
Image: // Ruins after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. 2011
© Steve McCurry / Magnum Photos
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