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​Ensure arrested suspects have immediate access to lawyers

Graphic: Police station, Sri Lanka

Torture and ill-treatment of suspects at police stations are more likely to occur soon after an arrest has taken place, the Commission noted.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka is gravely concerned that a Bill to amend the Criminal Procedure Code will deprive suspects arrested and detained by the police of access to Attorneys-at-law, prior to the recording of their statement.

The Bill proposes to introduce a new section 37A to the Criminal procedure Code. The proposed section 374(1) states that "any person who has been arrested and detained in custody, shall have the right to retain and consult an Attorney-at-law of his choice of his own expense, after the recording of his statements in terms of the provisions of subsection (1) of the section 770 and prior to being produced before a Magistrate".

Although this section purports to give a right to arrested suspects to retain and consult an Attorney- at-law, this right is granted only after a statement is recorded from the suspect. Between the time of arrest and when the statement is recorded, suspects are deprived of access to their Attorneys-at-law.

The Human Rights Commission has observed that many instances of torture and ill-treatment of suspects at police stations occur between the period of arrest and the conclusion of recording their statements.

As such, depriving suspects of access to their lawyers until their statements are recorded will result in a greater risk of suspects being subjected to torture and ill-treatment, as well as illegal arrest and detention by errant police officers.

The passage of the Bill will hinder the efforts of the Government to stop torture in Sri Lanka.

As such, it is necessary to strengthen, not weaken, the right of suspects to have access to lawyers.

In the above circumstances, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka calls upon the Government to withdraw the aforesaid amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure and to continue to recognise and enhance the rights of suspects to have access to their lawyers.

The full statement is available on the website of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.

Date: 23 September 2016

Source: Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka

Image credits

  1. Police station, Sri Lanka - seanbjack, Flickr; http://bit.ly/2eE5Mp9