Legal assistance is usually essential if an accused is able to participate in criminal proceedings. Where the accused does not have the means to pay, the State should provide legal aid. The more serious the alleged offence and consequences of a conviction, the more important it is that such legal assistance is effective.

Access to an effective defence in death penalty cases is critical. The effectiveness of the defence depends not only on the competence of the lawyer, but also the context in which legal assistance is provided. In too many countries the accused does not fully understand the charges and is under pressure to confess. Lawyers may face restricted access to case files and the evidence against their client. In some jurisdictions lawyers are unable to meet their clients during the early stages of the investigation. Legal aid lawyers in death penalty cases have an unwelcome reputation for being poorly prepared. This is usually because they are badly paid and badly trained. The death penalty always impacts disproportionately on the poor. Read our report on Access to Justice for the Poor in Death Penalty Cases.

“Most drug crime cases rely on legal aid lawyers. Few have had special training. They are just a show for the court which must have a defence lawyer present.”

Chinese lawyer from a legal aid NGO

We are supporting lawyers and legal aid organisations to raise awareness of the importance of good quality legal aid, particularly in death penalty cases. We are advocating for more effective training for lawyers. With EU support, we are developing training materials for Chinese lawyers representing death penalty cases. We have also been supporting local experts provide training to new duty lawyers in China.

Previous page image, Supreme People's Court Building, is by Russell Neches