Sunday, July 31, 2005

Delayed Justice

Following is an editorial from the Jordan Times in Amman.

Fortunately the eight-day hunger strike by 10 inmates at Swaqa prison ended rather peacefully and just one day after 10 other inmates at the Qafqafa correctional and rehabilitation centre halted their 12-day strike.

The detainees at both prisons were protesting the unusual delay in their trials or the severity of their sentences. Some were convicted of state security-related crimes but their appeals remain pending, which means their convictions are not yet final.

There is a well-established legal principle accepted across the globe that justice delayed is justice denied. The National Centre for Human Rights (NCHR) has repeatedly protested this delay in the legal proceedings and reiterated this complaint in its recent annual report.

There is no denying that persons who threaten the security of the country and commit or plan to commit crimes against the state must be apprehended and brought to justice. Likewise for persons who commit common crimes. But detentions pending a court process cannot be indefinite.

The issue here therefore is not about taking state security seriously or taking certain administrative measures to prevent the commission of common crimes, but rather the speed with which the judicial process is being conducted and to what extent such detentions are made subject to judicial reviews.

Previous reports issued by the NCHR and other human rights monitoring groups operating in the Kingdom have consistently found many detainees kept in prisons for extended periods without ever being taken to court for trial according to the due process of the law. The incidence of administrative detention is frequent and this system of detention is not subject to judicial scrutiny. The government has acted in part against this form of detention in the past and called on governors to resort to this form of detention conservatively.

Under the Crime Prevention legislation, Ministry of Interior officials can detain people for an extended period of time for fear that a crime would be committed if they are set free.

While comprehending and appreciating the reasons behind administrative detentions, the detentions should be subject to judicial review and not left to local governors alone to set the standards for their application. Caseloads on the courts are on the rise. With that in mind the judicial reform process slated for the country may benefit from a system of differentiated case management, where each case is processed not on a first- come first-serve basis but rather in accordance with the timeframe and judicial system resources required. The system means cases are moved more expeditiously and court resources, including personnel, are utilised more efficiently.