ILF – Tunisia
In June 2015, the ILF launched a new country program in Tunisia. The goal of this new program is to improve the quality of criminal defense service provided to indigent Tunisians, while strengthening Tunisia’s criminal legal aid system.
This public defender office will have a direct impact on the thousands of indigent people throughout Tunisia who are accused of crimes and need access to effective legal representation. It will also have a far-reaching impact on the stability of Tunisia, as it will help ensure a fair trial for the poor and most vulnerable, build public confidence in the criminal justice system, and strengthen the rule of law.
The new Constitution of the Tunisian Republic provides for the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial, and the right not to be detained arbitrarily. It also provides for the right to legal representation for the indigent accused. Yet Tunisia faces challenges in implementing the right to counsel. The government legal aid system currently only provides for appointment of counsel in felony and juvenile cases, and lawyers’ access to detainees is limited during the critical early stages of the criminal justice process. As a result, many accused are still vulnerable to violations of their rights through all stages of the criminal justice process. ILF-Tunisia will help to bridge the gap between law and practice, and to ensure that the new Constitution of Tunisia is more fully respected.
Work of ILF-Tunisia
ILF-Tunisia provides intensive mentoring to its staff and volunteer lawyers, which has led to breakthroughs such as a successful attempt to visit a client in police custody, as well as some notably successful case outcomes which introduced novel arguments in the Tunisian courts.
In one case, volunteer lawyer Hanane Fatahallah represented a man who was being detained before trial in the local jail on a theft charge. After Fatahallah brought up numerous procedural violations in the case file and argued for leniency, given the client’s lack of a criminal record, the Court granted him the equivalent of a deferred disposition, and the young man was released the same day.
In another case, lawyer Bassem Trifi secured a not guilty verdict on charges of drug use and possession with the intent to use drugs. Trifi argued the numerous procedural problems to the court, starting with the argument that the police had no authority to arrest his client. Tunisian attorneys rarely, if ever, make this argument in court, though it is clear that the law only allows the police to arrest if they come across an individual in the course of a crime or if they have a judicial order.
ILF-Tunisia also continues to develop legal strategies to address systemic violations of law, in particular the lack of access to clients in detention and the frequency of pre-trial procedural violations.
At the same time, ILF-Tunisia continues to develop its practice manual and other tools, including a case management system, client intake forms, and motions bank, which will help to guide the development of proactive, zealous defense lawyers, maintain continuity of training and advocacy, and ensure that ILF-Tunisia’s legal practice is in line both with local laws that protect the rights of the indigent accused and with international best practices.