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NEWS

Guest Post: The Vulnerability of Women in the Albanian Criminal Justice System

editor - February 12, 2015

albania-587343_640Over the last 25 years, the Albanian criminal justice system has undergone institutional and legislative developments in an attempt to establish democracy, the rule of law and observation of standards of human rights in Albania. The paper on ‘Convicted Women and their reintegration in the society – Gender Perspective in the Criminal Justice System’ provides a comparative analysis of the status of women offenders in criminal proceedings in Albania, and provokes a discussion on how society treats women, in order to find and implement more humane and effective measures to solve conflicts and improve the lives of women in Albania.

Thus far, insufficient data generated by law enforcement bodies and a lack for scientific studies, prevent deep insights into the developments and trends within the judicial and prison system addressing this issue.

Keeping records for each institution separately makes it difficult to clearly understand how many women and girls are apprehended/arrested for a given year, how many started a criminal case, how many of these cases were closed or suspended, how many were convicted, how many of them were sentenced to prison, and how many are currently serving sentences (including those in pre-trial detention). This also contributes to the lack of updated information on the real problems women offenders face during criminal proceedings, resulting in failure to develop fair and effective policies in the criminal justice system that takes into account the special needs and problems women offenders face.

Given the vulnerability of women in the criminal justice system, the relevant authorities must ensure access to free legal counsel from the moment of detention/arrest. Almost all women interviewed in penal institutions, claimed they were not aware of the right of access to legal counsel upon arrest. Even when some of them were aware of that right, and had requested to use it, it was not granted by the police. In most cases, defence counsel is present only in the evaluation stage of the security measure by the relevant courts. Given the importance of statements by the defendant when deciding the appropriate security measures, it is imperative that sufficient legal safeguards are in place. Having legal counsel from the first moments of detention/arrest ensures that women, who are unable to afford private legal counsel, are granted access to free legal service. The women interviewed complained about the quality of the free legal services they received. This deserves special attention by the relevant state authorities; the free Legal Aid Commission, the Executive Board of the Chamber of Lawyers. Efficient measures need to be taken to ensure free legal service in the first moments of detention and arrest, and also guarantee a more professional legal service for women offenders.

Evidence gathered in interviews with female prisoners in Albania highlighted the concern that the accused remained in detention for an average of 22.3 months before a final decision by the relevant courts was given. The judiciary is encouraged the judiciary to reflect and analyse the speed and effectiveness of rendering justice to women defendants, and the consequences of long periods in detention.

This is a guest post written by Dr. Edlira Papavangjeli and may not reflect the views of Fair Trials International. 

Dr. Edlira Papavangjeli, author of ‘Convicted Women and their reintegration in the society – Gender Perspective in the Criminal Justice System’, researcher and expert on human rights issues, works part-time at the Faculty of Law, University of Tirana and full time as Programs’ Manager at the Albanian Helsinki Committee. The full PhD thesis can be found here.

 

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