Ukraine Public Defender Office Promotes Rights of the Accused
KHARKIV, Ukraine—A newly opened public defender office recorded a major success last week when it was assured by Regional Director of Kharkiv Police I.V. Repeshko that local police will follow a previously signed agreement establishing new protections for people accused of committing crimes.
The public defender office, which opened in September, provides free, high quality legal representation to people charged with crimes but unable to afford a lawyer.
In a televised ceremony on September 19, 2006, Regional Director of Police Repeshko signed an agreement with the public defender office, guaranteeing several new protections for accused persons, including:
- Access to a lawyer from the public defender office before the accused is interviewed by police;
- A private room where the accused and his/her lawyer can meet privately; and
- Permission for the lawyer to visit the accused in jail as often as needed for the duration of the proceedings.
The agreement has not been entirely followed by the local police of Kominternovsky court and police district. But in the meeting last week the regional director and a few higher staff members reassured the office of police readiness to cooperate.
The public defender office, currently staffed by five lawyers, is a joint project of the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, the International Renaissance Foundation, the Ukraine Ministry of Justice, and the Open Society Justice Initiative. The Kharkiv office is a pilot project to establish a legal aid system that ensures access to legal representation for indigent defendants. A second pilot public defender office is expected to open in Bila Tserkva, Kyiv region, in 2007.
"This agreement is an important milestone in the reform of Ukraine's criminal justice system," said Zaza Namoradze, director of the Justice Initiative's Budapest office. "Taking these steps to protect the rights of the accused will improve the administration of criminal justice and bring it closer to the standard established in Ukraine's constitution."