The Role of Lawyers and Paralegals in Fighting Pretrial Injustice

Every year, across the world, countless people are unnecessarily arrested and improperly detained by law enforcement agencies. This can have a terrible impact on the individuals detained, as well as on their families, and on their communities.  Those in pretrial detention are often held in worse conditions and subject to treatment that is far worse than that experienced by sentenced prisoners. In some countries, pretrial detainees —who are meant be considered innocent until proven guilty—can wait behind bars for years before ever seeing the inside of a courtroom.

The Open Society Justice Initiative has produced a series of recent reports on some of the indirect consequences of excessive pretrial detention: how it can cripple the economic and social well being not only of the detainees, but of their familes; how it leaves them exposed to the threat of torture and abuse by those holding theml; how it can erode their health, and the health of their families and communities.

Now we are looking at solutions.  Our latest report, Improving Pretrial Justice: The Roles of Lawyers and Paralegals, looks at how early intervention by lawyers and paralegals after an arrest can break the cycle of pretrial injustice. Providing legal assistance early in the process—in the first hours and days after a person has been arrested or detained—can have enormous benefits not just the individuals, but for the entire criminal justice system.

The report provides a comprehensive and straightforward guide to effective early intervention. It sets out the international criminal justice standards that provide for the right to legal assistance, and examines the problems and challenges at the pretrial stage of criminal proceedings. It describes the impact that defense lawyers and paralegals can have on individuals, and to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system.

Crucially, it also provides practical advice and recommendations to governments and legal aid management organizations on how to set up and operate an early intervention scheme. It uses examples of replicable models around the world, from developed and developing countries alike.   Pretrial justice can be achieved through a range of different mechanisms, some which reflect more traditional approached to legal advice and assistance, while others involve more innovative responses to conditions in less wealthy and post-conflict countries.

Improving Pretrial Justice: The Roles of Lawyers and Paralegals can be downloaded for free by clicking here. If you would like to receive a hard copy of this report, please email us at

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