Free legal aid offers a new lease of life to UTPs in Sindh

25th May 2021, Karachi. The Government of Pakistan provides a constitutional right to every citizen of the country to have access to inexpensive and speedy justice when required. In addition, the provision of free legal aid service to counsel poor and vulnerable prisoners who are unable to afford access to the legal system is also a fundamental human right. However, in Pakistan, there are thousands of Under-Trial Prisoners (UTPs) languishing in prisons for years simply because they lack financial resources or not aware of the law and legal rights in Pakistan. This was a stark reality brought to the fore by Jeremy Milsom, Representative, UNODC in Pakistan on the occasion of the fourth provincial Legal Aid Network Coordination Meeting in Karachi. 

The event marked a milestone for UNODC for supporting the Under-Trial Prisoners (UTPs) in the 22 prisons of Sindh through the provision of free legal aid made possible by the gracious support of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) from the US Department of State.

The Legal Aid Project is unique and has set a precedent for providing a mix of interventions that go a long way in strengthening the delivery of free and speedy justice to the most deserving, including the vulnerable women, juveniles, minorities, elderly, people with disability and all those needy and poor UTPs, who are unable to access legal counsel. The project combines free legal aid with enhancing police-prosecution cooperation through training to support transparent and speedy investigation and delivery of fair trials in the court of law.

The project has built successful referral linkages with civil society organizations, pro-bono legal aid practitioners and services to uphold the rights of vulnerable prisoners, developing a unified roadmap on the provision of free legal aid in Sindh. This has helped to engender a community of responsible legal aid service providers.

The Legal Aid Project, since its inception in 2017, has made visible strides in delivering exemplary performance, advocating significance of free legal aid and building capacity of the Prison Department in Sindh. The meeting was well-attended by eminent representatives from the criminal justice institutions and legal fraternity who acknowledged the contribution. The stakeholders unanimously endorsed the Terms of Reference for establishing and sustaining a Free Legal Aid Service Provider within the Prison Department of Sindh. This has built a solid foundation for institutionalizing the provision of free legal aid to the poor and vulnerable inmates.

Thankfully, as a result of the project, 485 UTPs have already been released and reintegrated back into their families getting a new lease of life. By the end of June 2021, it is expected that the total number of released UTPs will reach 500.



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