Update: 15.02.2017

Humanrights.ch provides independent counselling services for prisoners and their relatives

Prisoners in Switzerland currently have no access to free confidential legal advice from independent specialists. The only way to get counselling is by hiring a lawyer. Association humanrights.ch is now offering free counselling services for prisoners and their families. The service is complementary and in addition to existing structures.

The pilot project will run for three years in the canton of Bern. DJS (Demokratische JuristInnen Schweiz/Democratic Lawyers Switzerland) and ACAT (Aktion der Christen für die Abschaffung der Folter/Action by Christians against Torture) are included in the project as strategic project partners.

Mission and project activities

The counselling service aims to offer consultations for prisoners. An initial consultation will help decide whether or not further action is needed, such as in-depth counselling for the prisoner or transfer of the case to a competent lawyer.

Whenever possible, humanrights.ch tries to act as a go-between. If the counselling centre finds that the rights of a person have been violated, it informs the correctional facilities or law enforcement agencies what mistakes have been made, requests a statement and forwards suggestions to improve the situation. If an informal intervention does not clarify the situation, the counselling centre supports the persons seeking advice by writing formal appeals.

Complex legal issues are forwarded to specialised lawyers who will then take on the legal representation. The counselling centre cooperates closely with lawyers specialising in the field of penalties and measures and finances a limited number of legal representations annually. The information gathered during the initial clarifications is passed on to the appointed lawyers in writing or by phone. The counselling centre then works with the lawyers to decide whether or not legal representation in the particular case makes sense.

Humanrights.ch registers and documents the cases from the consulting practice with due regard to data protection and by including the affected persons with the help of a case registration database, that allows it to categorise cases according to an analytical pattern. The registered cases are evaluated annually and published in a report. In addition, humanrights.ch creates a compilation of complaints, judgements, decisions and media reports in the field of imprisonment. Furthermore, humanrights.ch publishes basic texts on human rights-related topics to do with the penal system on its own internet platform, which get 2 million visits a year.

Regional area of application

In order to be able to provide a high-quality service, the independent counselling service for prisoners and their families will only be launched in the canton of Bern during the pilot phase. The restricted regional scope of the project will make it manageable in its early stages. When the three-year pilot phase concludes in 2020, organisers should have sufficient information to decide whether or not the programme can be scaled to other cantons and language regions.

Further information

For more information on the project, please contact project leader David Mühlemann.

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