The Tunisian justice system should guarantee fair trials

22 October 2013

Tunis, 22 October 2013 – The Réseau d’Observation de la Justice tunisienne (“ROJ” or the Observation Network of Tunisian Justice) calls for reforms of the justice system and revisions in judicial practices in order to guarantee fair trials for the Tunisian population. The ROJ was created by Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) in partnership with the Tunisian League for Human Rights and the National Order of Tunisian Lawyers. Through its recommendations on judicial reforms, the ROJ aims to contribute towards creating a judicial system capable of guaranteeing the rights and freedoms for all.                                                                                                                          

Since the rise of the Arab Spring in 2011, the Tunisian justice system has been the subject of weekly news coverage. “Apart from the trials closely monitored by the media, such as the trial of Ben Ali’s relatives and confidants, there exists a conventional justice system which serves the ordinary citizens of Tunisia. This justice system must also guarantee to everyone the right to a fair and equal trial”, reminds Jean-Charles Paras, ASF’s civil and political rights expert.

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ASF Head of Mission in Tunisia Federica Riccardi and ASF expert J-C Paras © Mohamed Nidhal Battiche

It was against this backdrop that in 2012 ASF and its partners launched the ROJ. The objective of this unique network is two-fold: to examine the dysfunctional justice system with a special focus on right to a fair trial, and to make recommendations for the advancement of reforms that are in line with national and international law.

For a fairer justice system

In its report published earlier this month (French, Arab), the ROJ draws attention to a number of judicial derelictions such as undue adjournment of cases and court processing of trial cases. A lawyer who is a member of the ROJ relates: “In the cases that I have observed, I witnessed that courtrooms were rather crowded and that an enormous number of cases had to be pleaded on the same day.” In fact, half of the cases that were observed by the ROJ were postponed to a later date, which is particularly problematic when the defendants are in pre-trial detention. Other irregularities were noticed, such as the absence of oral requisitions by the prosecution in 9 cases out of 10 or the fact that in many instances, the right to legal assistance is disregarded.

While the ROJ report points out a series of risk indicators that highlight elements of unfair trial, the ROJ report goes on to specify that very often it is not the complexities of the procedures and the laws in the Tunisian criminal justice system that cause these difficulties, but rather the attitudes and practices of the legal and judicial actors in the trial process. “This is why we make our recommendations very detailed and concrete. Let us take for example the list of defendants called for hearing. If this would be better organised then everyone would benefit from it – the lawyers, judges, the public prosecution department, and most of all the people seeking justice. Ultimately, it will contribute to an efficient and a better-equipped justice system; one that is fair and effective”, advocates Jean-Charles Paras.

The ROJ report is based on the analysis and monitoring of 112 hearings representing 33 criminal trials in 19 courts, covering the entire Tunisian territory during the period from October 2012 to July 2013. In order to make this possible, the ROJ trained and commissioned 282 observers from the civil society and the Tunisian Bar Association.

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

Read another webstory on the ROJ

Cover photo: The ROJ representatives call for a justice system in Tunisia which respects the right to a fair trial; Tunis, October 2013 © Mohamed Nidhal Battiche

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