HELP programme to raise human rights' awareness among lawyers

Former judge Roberto Rivello: few human rights claims against Malta could be result of lack of awareness among legal profession.

Malta's few cases before the European Court of Human Rights could be attributed to the lack of awareness of Maltese legal professionals in applying international instruments on a daily basis, Roberto Rivello, former judge and chief of the Human Rights Directorate of the Council of Europe said this morning.

Addressing a press conference at the launch of the Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (HELP) programme online course this morning, Rivello said Malta has 53 pending cases at the Strasbourg court, an average of 20 cases a year.

"This could well mean that Human Rights in Malta are respected, however the country was twice sanctioned over the administrative detention of migrants. In 2012, another case dealt with conditions at detention centres."

He added that no European country can honestly claim to observe all human rights instruments, but rather than increasing the amount of cases before the ECHR, it is paramount that human rights are implemented at national level.

"The aim, of this course is that lawyers and judges daily and directly apply international instruments," Rivello said.

A module in the HELP Programme regards alternatives to detention. The former judge highlighted two problems concerning detention across Europe - prison overcrowding and the lack of alternatives to detention measures.

"While Malta has implemented parole and other measures there are more options to explore, such as community service. In the case of illegal migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, the island does not offer any alternative to administrative detention," he said.

Rivello pointed out that the situation in Malta is similar to anywhere else in Europe, however he said that all countries apply detention in different ways.

"Through the HELP Programme, legal professionals can seek to directly apply international instruments concerning this sector of society, on daily basis."

As the national focal point, the Chamber of Advocates will be assisting the CoE's HELP Programme by delivering an online course on 'Community Sanctions and Alternative Measures to Detention as One Solution to Prison Overcrowding'.

Another aspect to be discussed during  the course is the large number of cases rejected by the ECHR.

95% of requests are rejected as not admissible but due to the backlog no official reason was being given to lawyers. Rivello said this resulted in lawyers being kept unaware of the mistakes in their submissions and more and more cases kept being rejected.

He added that as of this year, the Rule 47,concerning the contents of an individual applications, was amended making it harder for lawyers to submit inadmissible cases.

This is the very first initiative by the Council of Europe for the Maltese legal profession. While there are about 1500 lawyers on the island, only 500 of them are involved in human right cases.

"Not only is the sector of human rights a challenging and humanely important area of law, but it also provides young lawyers with new frontiers and business opportunities," he said.

The HELP programme supports the 47 member states of the Council of Europe (CoE) in implementing the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) at the national level.

This is achieved by enhancing the capacity of judges, lawyers and prosecutors in all 47 member states to apply the ECHR in their daily work.

A wide range of training resources on the ECHR, developed and collected under the HELP Programme, is available on-line, translated into the national languages of the beneficiary countries.

This includes training manuals on both ECHR Methodology and Key Concepts, handbooks, standard curricula, course outlines, presentations, case studies, and e-learning courses on the different, articles and themes of the ECHR.

Reuben Balzan, President of the Chamber of Advocates held that human rights as the core of what lawyers represent. He encouraged local legal professionals to participate in the course organised with the support of the Council of Europe.

The course will start in March, with an annual conference being held in April. Applications can be sent to Dr Therese Comodini Cachia on [email protected] or handed to Rosette Fenech at the Chamber of Advocates.

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