A key challenge for a criminal justice system is the treatment of people deprived of their liberty. Pre-trial detention should be the exception rather than the rule and for the shortest possible time. Anyone detained should enjoy the right to know why, to consult a lawyer and to be treated well.

Since our founding we have engaged with Chinese lawyers and legal scholars and supported their efforts to promote reform of the criminal justice system. Early work addressed juvenile justice and the right to bail. Much of our current work focuses on access to lawyers, particularly in the early stages of an investigation and for those facing the risk of the death penalty. Progress has recently been undermined by frequent resort to broadly defined national security offences to deny detainees access to lawyers.

A long-standing concern is the provision of good quality legal aid. Over the past year we have been supporting the development of effective training for the newly established system of duty lawyers

Freedom from torture is a fundamental human right. For many years this has been one of our core concerns and we have supported the design and delivery of introductory training on the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Although China has ratified this treaty most criminal defence lawyers are unfamiliar with the detailed provisions, including the definition of torture in international law and obligations on the state to conduct prompt and effective investigations into allegations of the use of torture.

The Istanbul Protocol is a useful tool to help lawyers and forensic doctors document alleged incidents of torture and support claims for the exclusion of illegally obtained evidence. We have been helping to promote awareness of this little known United Nations document among Chinese lawyers and legal scholars. We have also worked with universities and NGOs in other Asian countries to share knowledge of how their law and practice deal with allegations of torture.