Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Access to counsel crucial for those facing capital punishment

COMMENT

Executions are on the decline as more countries abandon capital punishment by law or in practice. Despite this, 657 executions were recorded last year. That’s 657 too many. 

It is crucial that those accused of capital crimes have access to quality legal representation. In many places, people facing charges that could lead to execution are deprived of this right. Some spend days in detention without access to legal counsel, only to be assigned a lawyer who is juggling dozens of other cases. Others may meet their lawyer for the first time in the courtroom, at the start of the trial. Some attorneys do not have the knowledge or capacity to defend a capital case, or may be afraid of the repercussions if they actively defend their clients.

Vincent Soligbo’s clients are lucky. This capital defence attorney has represented people facing the death sentence in Nigeria pro bono. He has interacted with people on death row since 2013, discovering that most of them — at the time of prosecution and even after conviction — were never afforded the constitutional right to proper legal representation. Many could not afford the services of a lawyer to appeal their conviction, and were subsequently executed by hanging.

This lack of adequate legal representation led to more people ending up on death row, often based solely on confessions obtained by torture. “I often reflect on what would have become of my clients had they not benefited from diligent and proper representation,” said Soligbo, who has successfully defended several individuals.

What he observed is not an isolated phenomenon. In many countries, people are arrested, detained, and in some cases even tortured until they confess to crimes — all without a lawyer by their side. Many people cannot afford to pay a lawyer. This violates the most basic tenet of criminal justice systems: the accused are innocent until proven guilty. 

We cannot tolerate the status quo. Effective and trained defence lawyers are necessary to ensure fair trials; the right to adequate legal representation is not and should never be viewed as a luxury.

This means people should be able to count on expert legal counsel from the moment they are accused of a crime. This means having a lawyer who is qualified to take up a case, who has access to relevant information regarding the case and who can consult the accused when needed. This requires that the lawyer is adequately compensated.

State-sponsored killings are an affront to human dignity. They amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and must be abolished everywhere — from Belarus, Vietnam and Iran to the United States and Singapore.

Alice Mogwe is the founder and director of Ditshwanelo, the Botswana Centre for Human Rights. She’s also the president of the International Federation for Human Rights, a founding member of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. October 10 is the Day Against the Death Penalty.

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Alice Mogwe
Alice Mogwe is the founder and director of Ditshwanelo, the Botswana Centre for Human Rights. She’s also the president of the International Federation for Human Rights, a founding member of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

‘The children cannot cope any more’: Suicide in Calvinia highlights...

How Covid-19 has intensified the physical and emotional burdens placed on children’s shoulders.

Capitec Bank flies high above Viceroy’s arrow

The bank took a knock after being labelled a loan shark by the short seller, but this has not stymied its growth

More top stories

The convenient myth of an Africa spared from Covid-19

There are few, if any, studies to support Pfizer chief executive’s assertion that the global south would be more vaccine-hesitant than the north

Council wants Hawks, SIU probe into BAT’s Zimbabwe scandal

The cigarette maker has been accused of giving up to $500 000 in bribes and spying on competitors

How Alpha Condé overthrew Alpha Condé

Since the coup d’état, Guinea’s head of state has been in the custody of the military officers. But it was the president who was the primary architect of his own downfall
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×