Brazilian judges to address torture in first hours of custody

Thursday, June 30, 2016

How do judges address torture issues in Brazil and what measures they can implement in their practices to prevent torture, ill-treatment and police abuse? This was the focus of a recent seminar in Brasilia, gathering 50 judges from 22 states.

Custody hearings foresee that detainees should be brought before a judge within 24 hours of their arrest, to promptly verify the legality of the arrest, the need to keep the person detained during the pre-trial period, and if the person suffered torture or ill-treatment at any stage of custody. They are an effective and much needed tool to prevent abuses in detention and their implementation comes as a response to the international obligations of the Brazilian state.

Despite a lack of a legislative federal norm in place, the National Council of Justice in Brazil has adopted a proactive policy for State courts to start implementing this practice. The Council has recently issued guidance for local courts on how the custody hearings should be conducted, in particular to assist judges to detect early signs of torture and ill-treatment. These guidelines constitute a most welcome tool on torture prevention in the country, as they gather recommendations on best practices to be adopted by judges and courts, based on international standards. They are targeted at assuring that the proper conditions are in place to enable victims of torture and ill-treatment to report and to address concerns regarding their safety against intimidations or retaliation.

Reflecting on good practices

The objective of the seminar was to share this guidance with judges and engage a discussion on how custody hearings can effectively prevent torture and other forms of ill-treatment. During the seminar, judges were able to exchanges views and challenges regarding the implementation of the custody hearings and to reflect on good practices being implemented by different courts around the country. In most states, custody hearings have contributed to decrease the systematic use of preventive detention. However, a lot remains to be done to assure that custody hearings are an effective tool to prevent torture, ill-treatment and police violence. Judges were not only able to hear from each other, but also from two international experts: Felipe Villavicencio, member of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, and Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, who visited Brazil in 2015.

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, addresses Brazilian judges on their role in preventing torture and ill-treatment (in Spanish).

As a result, it is expected that similar discussions take place at local courts to assure the effective implementation of custody hearings in accordance with the criteria and guidelines issued by the National Council of Justice.

The “2nd Seminar on Torture and Violence in the Criminal System: the Role of Judges in Preventing and Combatting Torture” was co-organised by APT, the National Council of Justice, the Association of Magistrates of Brazil, the Human Rights Secretariat of the Ministry of Justice, and International Bar Association.

Supreme Court Judge Lewandowski
Supreme Court Judge Ricardo Lewandowski, president of the National Council of Justice.

Sandra Silvestre, Judge, State of Rondonia.

APT Board member José de Jesus Filho and Judge Luis Lanfredi, National Council of Justice.

Audrey Olivier Muralt, director of APT's regional office for Latin America and João Ricardo dos Santos Costa, President of the Association of Brazilian Magistrates.

Felipe Villavicencio

Felipe Villavicencio, UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture

All photos: Luiz Silveira/Agência CNJ