Egypt launches new project to hold pre-trial detention hearings ‘virtually’

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Wed, 21 Oct 2020 - 04:50 GMT

CAIRO – 21 October 2020: Egypt’s Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights confirmed on Wednesday the launching of a new project that will allow holding pre-trial detention proceedings virtually, aiming to preserve and guarantee the rights of the detainees.

The virtual proceedings will allow direct communication between the judge, the detained in his/her place of detention, and the latter’s lawyer, through a secured audio-video network connecting a number of courts and prisons, according to a press statement by the supreme committee, which further clarified that the project was launched on October 18, marking an unprecedented step in the history of the Egyptian judicial system.

“Establishing an effective and secure mechanism of communication between the detained person, his lawyer, and his judge, enhances the constitutional rights of persons under detention to counselling and to be treated with dignity,” the press statement read, adding that the new project serves the rights of the detained to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a judicial authority and to physical integrity, especially for persons with special needs or those who have medical conditions requiring special treatment

In the first phase of the project, the New Cairo Court has been linked with “Tora” Public Prison, “El-Nahda” and “May 15” central prisons; and the following phases of the project are set to include —in the near future— all courts and prisons, the statement read.

The Supreme Committee has confirmed that the project reflects the keenness of various state institutions to benefit from technological developments, in order to enhance human rights.

Founded at the end of 2018, the Supreme Standing Committee on Human Rights is headed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry; and gathers 25 members who represent a number of ministries, national councils, and government bodies. Among its notable members are Maya Morsi, president of the National Council of Women; former Minister of Higher Education Mofeed Shehab; Heba Hagras, member of the Egyptian parliament and of the parliamentary Committee of Solidarity with Persons with Disabilities; and the Secretary General for the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR) Alaa Shalaby.

In a historical step, the Committee discussed on October 18 a primary draft of the first National Strategy for Human Rights, in the presence of the Committee’s Secretary General, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Ahmed Ihab Gamal El-Din, and the committee’s diverse members of experts and public figures.

“Taking the initiative to prepare the first integrated and long-term national strategy for human rights in Egypt reflects the existence of a firm political will to give impetus to the relevant national efforts by adopting a comprehensive and serious approach to promoting basic rights and freedoms,” Shoukry commented on finalizing the first draft of the national strategy.

Pre-Trial detention in Egyptian law: Regulations and guarantees

In light of the new development, it is worth to highlight the conditions and guarantees regulating pre-trial detention law in Egypt, in accordance with international human rights standards.

Article 54 of the Egyptian constitution stipulates that the provisions regulating pre-trial detention, its duration, reasons, as well as cases of entitlement to compensation by the state must be determined by law.

Accordingly, the Egyptian Criminal Procedure Law regulates all aspects of pre-trial detention, legally known as Remand, including the special conditions that must be met for the issuance of such order to narrow its scope; the maximum limit for the period of detention allowed, which varies according to the nature and seriousness of the crime committed; and the procedures for appealing against a pre-trial detention order. The law has also established alternatives to pre-trial detention to limit the situations and cases where it is resorted to.

Moreover, the Public Prosecution Office —which is an integral part of the judiciary, and undertakes the investigation, movement, and initiation of the criminal case, in absolute independence of the executive authority — is required by the law to publish acquittal rulings in the official newspapers at state expense; and to ensure in that case that pretrial detainees are financially compensated for the period of detention they spent.

Lastly, the Prisons Organization Law guarantees the right of pretrial detainees to be detained in places separate from other prisoners; and it is permissible for them to reside in furnished rooms at their expense.

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