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Legal aid for inmates to go nationwide

Xinhua, August 12, 2014 Adjust font size:

A program that enables detention center inmates awaiting trial to consult a lawyer is set to expand across the country by the end of the year, according to the author of a human rights report.

The lawyers visit centers and inform inmates of their rights, provide legal aid and help them to understand the law.

The system is already operating in some areas, said the report in the 2014 Blue Book of China's Human Rights.

"These lawyers are required to have a face-to-face talk with suspects, explaining what crime they are accused of and providing legal aid for those who have difficulties finding an attorney," said Ding Peng, a law researcher at Wuhan University who co-wrote the report.

"Previously, suspects were handed a piece of paper or asked to look at a notice to learn about their rights in a detention center, but now lawyers must inform them orally.

"Not everyone can understand written legal articles, and some information posted on notices is out of date."

A pilot program that provides two lawyers on duty was developed in Jiaozuo, Henan province, in 2006, and two years later the initiative was extended to Anhui and Zhejiang provinces and Shanghai, the report said.

Ding said demand for lawyers from inmates rose rapidly last year, and the system has been shown to be practical.

In June, the Ministry of Public Security asked all detention centers to introduce the program, and Ding added, "I believe it can be extended across the country by the end of this year."

Ruan Chuansheng, a criminal lawyer in Shanghai, said that though the system is operating in the city, there is room for improvement.

"The legal protection cannot cover all steps after a person is arrested, especially when the suspect is in a police station and under investigation," he said.

Qu Xinjiu, a criminal law professor at China University of Political Science and Law, agreed. "Suspects should be given legal help in the first 24 hours after they are detained," he said.

"The key to guarantee a suspect's rights is to separate the investigating department from the detention service."

He said juvenile and disabled suspects receive better protection than others after they are detained.

"But I think legal aid will cover more people as we enhance awareness and improve human rights," he added.

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