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Role of judges and prosecutors

Judges and prosecutors have a responsibility to ensure that they do not themselves, unintentionally or otherwise, collude with acts of torture while carrying out their official functions. In some legal systems, prosecutors may be directly involved in conducting interrogations in which coercive methods of extracting confessions and information are used. In some situations, prosecutors may rely on information or confessions, when conducting cases, without ensuring that the information was not obtained by coercive means.

Sometimes judges and prosecutors fail to ensure that the laws and procedures designed to protect people in detention, and prevent acts of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, are upheld. They may also fail to require that a person making a statement or confession does so in their presence; fail to explore for signs of physical or mental distress on a detainee who is brought before them; return a detainee to the custody of law enforcement officials where there is reason to believe that the detainee will suffer ill-treatment; fail to react to signs which indicate that a person may have been ill-treated even in the absence of a formal complaint; fail to sufficiently take complaints of ill-treatment seriously; fail to investigate such allegations with a view to bringing proceedings against the perpetrators; and fail to exercise their powers to carry out thorough inspections of places of detention.

Conversely, judges and prosecutors may exercise their powers to prevent and investigate acts of torture. They may demand that a suspect be brought before them at the earliest opportunity and check that he or she is being properly treated. Where they have discretion, they may interpret the balance of proof, with respect to allegations of torture and the admissibility of evidence obtained through it, in ways that discourage law enforcement officers, and those in charge of places of detention, from carrying out, or permitting others to carry out, torture and other forms of ill-treatment. They may also stay alert to all possibilities that their own courts or tribunals do not conform to the highest possible standards with respect to preventing and investigating torture.

While international law provides a basic minimum, there are also examples from different countries that can be drawn on when developing standards of good practise. The case studies contained in this manual, which only represent a brief snap-shot of such cases drawn from around the world, are intended to illustrate how judges and prosecutors have sought to combat torture within their own national jurisdictions.