Rights of pre- trial, remand and convicted prisoners during covid-19 pandemic
RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE & JUDICIARY: RIGHTS OF PRE-TRIAL, REMAND AND CONVICTED PRISONERS DURING COVID-19 Pandemic:
Further to the NHRC’s Press Release dated the 20th March 2020 in which we proffered recommendations to support the monitoring, prevention and control of the Corona Virus (COVID19) in The Gambia and taking cognizance of the fact that the Judiciary of the Gambia issued a notice dated the 18th of March 2020 suspending all court proceedings, except bail applications, until further notice effective Monday the 23rd of March 2020, the NHRC further urges the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary to look into the plight of detainees in police cells, remand prisoners and convicted prisoners in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 in order to overcome the pandemic.
Whilst the NHRC commends the Judiciary for the decision to suspend court proceedings, it however wants to bring to the attention of the authorities the implications and ramifications this could have on the rights of remand prisoners who are presently undergoing trial through the court system and those prisoners who are awaiting the outcome of their appeal against their conviction and or sentence.
The closure of the Courts, although for a worthy cause, will undoubtedly infringe on the fundamental right to a fair and speedy trial of the category of prisoners aforementioned and may also inevitably contribute to the spread of the COVID19 in the prisons and other places of detentions. Consequently, the NHRC has come up with the following recommendations for the consideration of the Ministry of Justice & the Judiciary:
1. That alleged offenders charged with offences that are nonviolent and/or not of a sexual nature be granted bail on lenient conditions
2. That alleged offenders charged with nonviolent offences and/or crimes that are not of a sexual nature who are already in remand and awaiting trial be released on bail on lenient conditions.
3. That inmates that have committed nonviolent crimes and crimes that are not of a sexual nature and have served three-forth /75 percent of their sentences be eligible/considered for immediate released to reduce over congestion in our prisons and the spread of the virus.
4. That if the courts are closed for a prolonged period of more than one month, the judiciary should consider instituting Mobile Courts within the premises of Mile 2 Central Prison, Jeswang Prison and Janjangbureh Prison. As you are aware, Mobile Courts have been very effective in decongesting prisons in some jurisdictions.
5. That the Ministry of Justice urges the President to exercise his powers as per Section 82 of the 1997 Constitution (the Prerogative of Mercy), especially towards those convicts who are serving time for offences that are non-violent or not of a sexual nature.
The NHRC strongly believes that the aforementioned recommendations will avoid the anticipated prolonged detention of prisoners awaiting trial and or awaiting the outcome of their appeals and also decongest the prisons and assist in curtailing the spread of COVID19.
Emmanuel Daniel Joof
National Human Rights Commission
25th March 2020