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International Criminal Justice Standards - International Covenant On Civil And Political Rights

article trial accused committee

Following the adoption of the Universal Declaration, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights drafted the International Bill of Human Rights, which includes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Civil and Political Covenant). The Civil and Political Covenant entered into force 23 March 1976 as a multilateral treaty (ratified by 144 countries as of 1 November 2000) and establishes an international minimum standard of conduct for all participating governments. The Civil and Political Covenant further elaborates—particularly in its Articles 14 and 15, but also in Articles 2, 6, 7, 9, and 10—upon the criminal justice standards identified in the Universal Declaration. Article 14 of the Civil and Political Covenant recognizes the right in all proceedings to "a fair trial and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law." Every person is "equal before the courts and tribunals" under Article 14(1).

Article 14 also distinguishes between the sort of fair hearing required for civil cases, on the one hand, and criminal cases, on the other. Article 14(3) deals with the "minimum guarantees" required in the determination of any criminal charge, the observance of which is not always sufficient to ensure the fairness of a hearing. Among the minimum guarantees in criminal proceedings prescribed by Article 14(3) is the right of the accused to be informed of the charge against him/her in a language that the accused understands; to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of a defense and to communicate with counsel of one's own choosing; to be tried without undue delay; to examine or have examined the witnesses against the accused and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on one's behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against the accused; to the assistance of an interpreter free of any charge, if the accused cannot understand or speak the language used in court; and the right not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to confess guilt. Article 14 also gives the accused the right to have one's conviction and sentence reviewed by a higher tribunal according to law; to compensation if there was a miscarriage of justice; and not to be subjected to trial or punishment for a second time (non bis in idem). Under Article 14(4) juvenile persons have the same right to a fair trial as adults, but are also entitled to certain additional safeguards. Article 15 codifies the principle of nullum crimen sine lege (no crime without law) and also gives the accused the benefit of any decrease in penalty that is promulgated after the person has committed an offense. Other relevant provisions of the Civil and Political Covenant forbid torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; forbid arbitrary arrest; and require equality before the law.

The Human Rights Committee was established by the Civil and Political Covenant to interpret and apply the Covenant's provisions. The Committee has evolved a considerable jurisprudence on issues relating to the administration of justice—particularly as to the right to a fair trial. For example, many prisoners have complained to the Human Rights Committee that they have not received a prompt trial and the committee has sought to interpret that requirement. In 1984 the Human Rights Committee issued General Comment 13 authoritatively interpreting Article 14 of the Covenant and stating that the right to trial without undue delay relates not only to the time by which a trial should commence, but also to the time by which it should end and judgment be rendered; all stages must take place "without undue delay." It must be ensured, by means of an established procedure, that the trial will proceed "without undue delay," both in the first instance and on appeal.

The Civil and Political Covenant identifies in Article 4 certain rights as nonderogable, that is, those rights which cannot be the subject of suspension during periods of emergency that threatens the life of the nation. While Article 4 does not specify Article 14 (right to a fair trial) as expressly nonderogable, it does mention Articles 7 (prohibition of torture), 15 (nullum crimen sine lege (no crime without law)), and 16 (recognition of every person before the law) as nonderogable. Furthermore, the Human Rights Committee has interpreted other nonderogable rights (e.g., the right not to be subjected to arbitrary deprivation of life) as implying that the basic fair trial provisions of Article 14 cannot be suspended during periods of national emergency. The Human Rights Committee will likely strengthen the nonderogable nature of the right to a fair trial by issuing a further General Comment as well as decisions and views on individual cases interpreting the Covenant.

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about 8 years ago

article 15 0f the covenant on civil and political rights. "gives accused the benefit of any decrease in penalty that is promulgated after the person has committed the offence." if the 'judge'regards it prudent to decrease the penalty then surely it would be illegal to add Court Costs. decreasing the penalty would mean he has accepted the accused defence. if effect the accused has won.