Judges, prosecutors and lawyers

Judges and prosecutors hold a critical role as key actors in the prevention of torture. These actors must be ever vigilant to the risks of using information obtained by torture in their investigations and in the cases that come to court. To provide a role for such information is to legitimise the torture and create an incentive for further acts of abuse. However, by absolutely condemning torture and by zealously protecting the rights of persons in their custody, judges and prosecutors eliminate one of the root causes of torture in detention – to unlawfully coerce a detainee into a confession. 

Judges and prosecutors must not just rigorously condemn acts of torture. Judicial actors also have a positive duty to investigate any allegation or suspicion of torture, bring those responsible to justice, and offer redress and protection to its victims.

In many jurisdictions, judges and prosecutors also have a mandate to conduct visits to places of detention. Through such visits, these key actors open up the typically closed and secretive environment in which detainees are held, and provide a clear deterrent for acts of abuse.

Defence lawyers often face some of the most challenging obstacles in effecting adequate protection for detainees. Lawyers routinely protect detainees during the period at which they are most at risk from torture and other forms of ill-treatment, during the first hours of detention. Early access to a lawyer serves to reduce the risks of torture and ill-treatment, and provides a disincentive to state authorities who might otherwise consider torture as a way to achieve a confession.

As key actors in the prevention of torture, judges, prosecutors and lawyers should uphold international standards and safeguards which greatly reduce the risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Such standards and safeguards are strongly promoted in the work of the APT, which has conducted trainings and offered advice on their implementation with national actors in several countries, and various international bodies.

The APT encourages all judicial actors to conduct regular and unannounced visits to places of detention where possible. If you have any good practice examples of judicial visits that you would like to share with us, please contact our legal advisor.