Droit à l'information

Analysis

The right to information relating to legal proceedings

The days immediately following arrest and transfer to a place of detention are the times when the detainees are the most vulnerable.  Not only are the risks of being physically or verbally abused or mistreated greater but also the detainees are particularly disoriented and anxious because of the new circumstances.  Personal property, including mobile phones, is confiscated and contact with the outside world is greatly reduced.  Uncertainty as to their fate makes detainees dependent upon the information that is transmitted to them.  Anyone placed in pre-trial detention should therefore promptly receive information concerning, at a minimum:

  • The right to legal counsel (including the possibility of being assigned a court appointed lawyer)
  • The right to know what charges have been brought against them
  • The right to know when they will appear in court
  • The right to contest their detention (habeas corpus)
  • The right to know the possibilities that exist for conditional release

The information mentioned above must not only be transmitted orally but must also be submitted in writing to the people it pertains to.  These persons should be able to keep these documents for the duration of their detention.  It is important that this information be transmitted clearly and, if necessary, with the help of drawings and symbols.

women
foreigners
disabilities
minorities
children

Foreigners, minors, persons living with physical or mental disabilities should receive this information in simple, adapted language that they understand.

foreigners

Foreigners must be promptly informed of their right to get in touch with their consulate, with the help of an interpreter if necessary.

Persons charged must be informed promptly of what they are accused of in order to prepare their defence. This information includes a detailed description of the circumstances of the crime they are accused of and the legal classification of the crime (i.e. the gravity of the offence), and the minimum and maximum penalties provided by law. If the charges are modified, the detainee should be informed quickly. Detainees should be systematically informed of developments in their case file.

The accused persons or their lawyers should have access to the case file, in order to be able to contest the legality of their arrest or detention, and to be able to prepare their defence. This information may take the form of written documents, photographs or audio and video recordings. Access to the case file should be free (except for postal fees or photocopies).

The only restrictions regarding access to pieces of evidence in the case file should concern information that can pose a serious threat to the life or the fundamental rights of a third person or for reasons of safeguarding public safety (for example, if the information in question is a threat to national security).  Such restrictions must be pronounced by a court or a judiciary authority and must be provided for by law.

The right to information related to rights, duties and rules in detention

For all detainees, regardless of the phase of their detention (pre-judgement or during the execution of the sentence) knowing one’s rights, duties and rules in the penitentiary establishment is an important right.  It allows for limiting vulnerability to abuse and discrimination and contributes to maintaining certain fairness within the establishment.  Moreover, if the rights, duties and rules are known by all, good management of the place of detention will be facilitated.  To this end, the regulations (including information pertaining to practical aspects of life in detention such as schedules for access to showers, the telephone or the cafeteria) should be clearly posted and visible to all.

Information concerning rights, duties and rules should not only be given at admission but whenever necessary, including whenever any modifications to the rules are made. Detainees must be able to keep a copy of the document describing their rights and duties for the entirety of their incarceration.  A written copy of the document enumerating disciplinary rules (what measures are taken for which infractions, including their duration) should be promptly made available to detainees.  These documents must be given in a language that they understand. 

Information concerning the detention regime is also essential to adapt to life in the establishment.  This information should include the rulings that have led the authorities to place the prisoner in a particular type of detention.

In order to guarantee fairness during the enforcement of the sentence but also to promote reintegration and make detention more bearable, detainees should be regularly advised of the information in their individual files. This includes the right to know the exact length of their incarceration until they are released as well as the possibility of conditional release (and in what length of time).  This information must be transmitted to the detainee as quickly as possible.

The detaineess should also be informed of the medical treatment available, schedule of access to the infirmary and medical examinations as well as existing measures to prevent communicable diseases.

Upon admission, but not only then, prisoners should be made aware of the procedures in place to contact close family and friends and grievance mechanisms whether they are internal or external to the establishment.  Information concerning private or public organisations which can supply legal or other assistance should also be relayed and regularly updated.

The prisoners should also be informed of the medical treatment available, schedule of access to the infirmary and medical examinations as well as existing measures to prevent communicable diseases.

Upon admission, but not only then, prisoners should be made aware of the procedures in place to contact close family and friends and complaints mechanisms whether they are internal or external to the establishment.  Information concerning private or public organisations which can supply legal or other assistance should also be relayed and regularly updated.

Groups in situations of vulnerability and the right to specific information
women
foreigners
disabilities
minorities
children

All information concerning rights, duties and rules within the establishment should be transmitted in a simple way that is adapted to particular situations, if necessary, in the form of symbols and drawings.  The language must be one understood by the person concerned.

children

Language used to explain rights, duties and internal rules must be especially adapted to children, notably through drawings and understandable pictograms.  The purposes of existing rules must be explained to them as well as any disciplinary sanctions.

women

Female detainees should receive information concerning specific care that they have access to as well as the possibility of gynaecological examinations and personal hygiene products available to them.  They must also be informed of specific preventive health measures including HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and other communicable diseases as well as female pathologies.

foreigners
minorities

Persons who speak a foreign language or a minority language must be informed in a language they understand or by an interpreter of their rights and duties as well as of the rules in place.  The documents provided to all detainees must be in a language they understand and transmitted as quickly as possible.  Foreigners must also be informed of the procedures in place to notify their consulate if they wish to do so.

disabilities

For the blind, visually impaired, deaf or hearing impaired, information must be given with necessary adjustments made (for example, in Braille).   For those with intellectual disabilities or suffering from mental disability, the mode of communication should be adapted so that the information is transmitted in the clearest and most intelligible way possible.