AMMAN - Legal experts are improving free legal defence services for detainees in Iraq under a project supported by the European Union.
At the end of last year the Programme for the Protection of Detainees and Torture Victims established 20 Legal Defence Centres in 16 governorates of Iraq, providing free services to beneficiaries with reduced access to legal representation due to their financial, gender or family status.
| Court case folders submitted to a Legal Defence Centre in Iraq|
The project recently held a three-day meeting which aimed to identify remaining challenges as well as ways to reach out further to detainees that fall through the cracks in the legal system.
The meeting also sought to improve networking between the centres and other stakeholders in the provision of legal services for detainees such as the Iraqi Justice Network for Prisoners (JNP) and the Iraqi Bar Association.
During the first seven months of operation, a total of 613 cases of vulnerable individuals in need of legal defence were referred to the Legal Defence Centres by police stations, lawyers' syndicates, courts, prisons, rehabilitation centres and shelters. Over five hundred of these concerned men and 100 concerned women. A total of 365 cases were found to be eligible to receive free legal representation by the centres.
A participating lawyer from Basrah centre said: "To be able to release a person wrongfully detained awaiting a verdict of life in prison or execution is very important."
His colleague from Salah al-Din centre added: "After 12 years of working as a lawyer, this is the first time I work with humanitarian cases. We try our best to offer our services to the highest number of detainees possible."
The centres, each run by between three to seven permanent and volunteer lawyers, also offer hotline services providing free legal consultation over the phone.
A participating lawyer from Babil said: "The programme has successfully offered free legal consultation to detainees leading to an increased legal knowledge of citizens in general.
"The significance of the legal defence project also lies in strengthening the relationship between civil society organizations (as organizing parties of the centres) and the legal and executive authorities, including the police and courts. This will open way for these organizations to spread a human rights culture in Iraq."
The umbrella project 'Programme for the Protection of Detainees and Torture Victims' is funded by the European Union (EU) through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with a budget of 6,435,623 EURO (11,555,200,418 IQD). It is being implemented by UNOPS with the assistance of the NGO 'Un Ponte Per… ' (UPP).
This project is funded by the European Union through UNDP.