‘Pre-trial detention should always be the exception and never the rule’, Walid Al-Adwan, Jordanian Bar Association

PUBLISHED 09.10.2017

In Jordan, a high number of imprisoned are pre-trial detainees, however, recent numbers show a decrease in the use of pre-trial detention and the efforts to lower the use further continues.

By Clara Tørsleff

Amman, Jordan – Jordanian prosecutors and lawyers met the 29th and 30th of September to participate in a training on pre-trial detention arranged and supported by EU and DIGNITY in cooperation with Jordan’s Ministry of Justice.

Though the use of pre-trial detention in Jordan, according to a report by GFA Consulting Group, has been reduced by 17 percent between 2015 and 2016, the Jordanian judicial system still strives to improve, as there are remaining steps to be taken to reach better standards for detainees. Trainings like the recent one are part of this process.

In Jordan, pre-trial detainees constitute a high percentage of the total number of imprisoned. As of May 2017, 37 percent of all detainees were pre-trial detainees, according to the report by GFA Consulting Group. Jordan’s circumstances as a hosting country for a vast number of refugees and its general increase of population must be taken into consideration while looking at the 17 percent decrease of pre-trial detainees from 2015 till 2016.

A reduction of people in detention before trial is crucial for human rights and a big step towards reaching international standards.

– The most important thing in reducing the use of pre-trial detention is to avoid other human rights violations, says DIGNITY’s Senior Legal Advisor Elna Søndergaard

Research shows that there is a higher risk of human rights violations during pre-trial detention due to the lack of basic legal safeguard. Pre-trial detention also contributes to overcrowding prisons which easily lead to violations itself.

According to international standards pre-trial detention should always be avoided when possible, and this was emphasised throughout the training.

Besides the human rights aspect, placing suspects in pre-trial detention is costly for society, in particular because detention places and Correctional and Rehabilitation Centers (CRCs) are already overcrowded in Jordan. According to Roya News,Jordan’s Government Coordinator for Human Rights Basel Tarawneh, recently announced that the number of imprisoned exceeds the prisons’ capacity by 115 percent and that these prisoners cost Jordanian taxpayers over 10 million JD a year (JD 735 per month per inmate).

Several initiatives to tackle pre-trial detention problem
In the past years, many initiatives have been made in the Jordanian society to successfully reduce the number of detainees in the pre-trial phase. As a result of the national anti-torture programme Karama, a second edition of a pre-trial detention procedures manual was published by the Ministry of Justice in cooperation with DIGNITY in 2016*. This manual serves as a practical tool for all relevant actors and explains the international standards regarding pre-trial detention as well as the national legislation provisions. To reduce the use of pre-trial detention, a crucial step is to change mentalities of prosecutors when it comes to the automatic recourse of pre-trial detention and the necessity of its use.

Another important step in the reduction of pre-trial detention is the awareness of alternative sanctions such as prohibiting travel outside the country, using electronic bracelets and/or bail. Bail is also mentioned in the manual as an alternative and is the temporary release of an accused person awaiting trial, sometimes on the condition that a sum of money be lodged to guarantee their appearance in court. In Jordan, the latter has been used in 17.940 cases in 2016 as an alternative to pre-trial detention decreasing the number of detainees.

In July legislators made amendments in the Criminal Procedure Code that will come into force in March 2018. These amendments are also an element in the reducing of numbers for pre-trial detention by further limiting the crimes in relation to which pre-trial can be used.

The amendments also aim at improving the rights of a suspect, concerning the access to a lawyer in the pre-trial phase which as well reduce the risk of human rights violations. 24 hours after the arrest of a suspect, the hearing must take place. The prosecutor will in this hearing decide the pre-trial detention while investigations are ongoing. Suspects are first allowed a lawyer from the trial, and as it is now they are only entitled a lawyer if they will be sentenced life imprisonment or death penalty. However, with the new amendments in the Criminal Procedure Code a suspect from March 2018 will be entitled a lawyer when the sentence is 10 years of imprisonment and more.

Jordanian and Danish lawyers exchange knowledge
The training that recently took place aimed at encouraging judges and public prosecutors to reduce the use of pre-trial detention and to support capacity-building of judges, prosecutors and lawyers with the aim of supplementing the understanding of their role in the criminal justice system. One of the approaches was to exchange experiences with Danish representatives. Two Danish lawyers from the Danish Criminal Law Committee (DCLC) introduced Danish pre-trial detention procedures and the role of lawyers in this phase related to the role of the judges and prosecutors.

One of the participants from the Jordanian Bar Association was Walid Al-Adwan. He is the president of the Freedom and Rights Committee which is the Jordanian counterpart to DCLC.

– the training was very beneficial, especially because we looked at other experiences, Mr Al-Adwan says.

Judge Abdullah Abu Al-Ghanam from the Ministry of Justice and the first public prosecutor of Amman, started his presentation with a reminder of always using pre-trial detention as the last option.

– According to national standards of human rights, liberty of movement is the most crucial requirement which is why pre-trial detention is considered an act against the international standards as international standards state that pre-trial detention always should be the exception and never the rule –  that is why it is important to reduce pre-trial detention in Jordan, and not to restrict liberty,” Mr. Al-Adwan said.

The training and the other initiatives to reduce the number of persons in pre-trial detention are big steps towards reaching the international standards. As an outcome of this training, several participants expressed their hopes for supplementary training between the different actors in the judicial system. With this interest, it is clear that the efforts will continue and hopefully the numbers of pre-trial detainees will continue to fall and thereby the rights for suspects will improve.