Police beat out confessions and lawyers face closed doors

The presumption of innocence remains an illusion in Ukraine. In practice the orientation from criminal investigation and Prosecutor’s Office bodies is totally on getting a conviction, not seldom without taking the actual facts into consideration. One young resident of Chervonohrad has learned this to his cost, having been forced through torture by the local police to write a confession to a serious crime. His testimony, written in the first person, raises a number of questions regarding the system of criminal justice.

Lawyer Oleh Mytsyk who in his work often comes upon cases where the police literally beat testimony out of detainees states that in Ukraine there are considerable obstructions in the way of exercising the constitutional right to defence. A defender runs up against a number of obstacles in trying to get access to his or her client or to a person summoned for questioning as a witness. To this day it is typical in criminal proceedings to view the defender as somebody who gets in the way of getting a defendant imprisoned. 

  Complaints by parties in the trial or their defence against improper actions or inaction by police officers or the Prosecutor’s Office are rare because there are few examples of positive outcomes from such appeals or because the defenders are unaware of positive experience. Lawyers often have to fight with the law enforcement bodies when seeking permission for visits, use of cameras, Dictaphones and laptops.

  The “SIM” Centre for Legal and Political Studies has been providing legal aid and has come up against a number of obstacles facing lawyers due to internal instructions and set practice not based on the law. They have also encountered cases where access to people imprisoned has been impeded. It is this prevention of access by defenders to people at the initial stages of pre-trial investigation that allows police officers to beat out confessions which then become the basis of the prosecution. The SIM Centre’s project, which has the support of the International Renaissance Foundation, is aimed at preventing this.

  The SIM Centre is investigating the current situation as regards obstacles to defence in Ukraine and is endeavouring to exert influence on current legal practice for safeguarding the right of anyone to defence and preparing suggestions and recommendations on amendments to legislation and legal procedures. A manual is planned for defenders on the basis of discussion about problems with exercising the right to defence.

The attitude of law enforcement bodies to defenders and defendants must fundamentally change and obstructions to the work carried out by lawyers need to be removed from the practice of the courts, the Prosecutor, the police and SIZO [investigative isolation units].

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