Righting an imperfect system

legal aid in criminal cases

From 15 to 1: when numbers make a difference

Salah and Samer, two Jordanian young men in their early twenties, had an altercation with Rashed, a minor. The argument became heated and led to a fight. Rashed’s father, learning about the fight, reported the incident to the police, filing the case as “sexual assault”, rather than “assault”. In Jordan, the penalty for sexual assault can reach up to 15 years imprisonment, while assault never exceeds one year. While in detention, Salah and Samer reached out to JCLA through its hotline and a lawyer promptly went to represent them at the police station. The lawyer had the police officer modify the description and category of the complaint so that, should the case go to trial, fair procedures would be ensured.

In the end, the case never made it to trial, as JCLA’s lawyer mediated between the parties and Rashed’s father dropped all charges. Nevertheless, had the attorney not been present, the two young men may have been convicted to a sentence far harsher than they deserved.

Having a lawyer by their side changes defendants’ perceptions of the justice system: like guides in a foreign territory, lawyers allow defendants to feel safe, while strengthening the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system. This not only contributes to ensuring correct practices and safeguarding the rights of the accused, but it also promotes fair trial standards enhancing accountability of the rule of law. Through this process, JCLA builds the trust of individuals, their families and communities towards the justice system, increasing reliance of the society on the rule of law.

The same impact of legal aid intervention at pretrial cascades to the entirety of criminal proceedings, for defendants and plaintiffs alike.

In the case of Yazan, the presence of a lawyer shifted his status from suspect to victim. The young man’s appearance does not conform with the stereotypical gender norms of masculinity in Jordanian society. For this reason, he frequently suffers from harassment. After being harassed, both verbally and physically by a group of men, Yazan reported the case to the police. The officers, however, were not responsive and kept intimidating him during their questioning, refusing to see him as a victim. Yazan reached out to JCLA and was accompanied by a lawyer to the police station. In the lawyer’s presence, the police officers completely changed their attitude, showing seriousness and filing a complaint against the group of men. The case was taken to court, with Yazan represented by JCLA.

The presence of a lawyer is not only reassuring for the represented, but it also helps break the influence of customs and traditions in favor of a fair application of the law.

Change and impact can be like a growing curve stretching its height and reach. Through our detention hotline and legal services, we have created a legal culture where the community is aware of the importance of legal knowledge and the presence of a lawyer. Individuals now, instead of reaching out to JCLA once in detention, call us before turning themselves in or before being arrested, in order to receive a consultation. People have started to demand the presence of a lawyer from the start of their criminal proceedings. Legal knowledge is spreading, accountability is increasing and JCLA is proud to be catalyzing this change.