By Pedro Pablo Morejon
HAVANA TIMES – “Hacemos Cuba” is a TV show that is broadcast on national TV every week. Well-known figures are invited, whether that’s because of their reputation as lawyers or because of the role they play within legal or administrative institutions. I don’t normally watch it. It doesn’t sit well with me for reasons that are irrelevant right now.
However, two weeks ago, I paid attention to one of its episodes. I was watching it for a few minutes, long enough for me to confirm something that we’ve been expecting ever since the new Constitution was enacted: new laws in Cuba’s Penal Code are on the horizon.
The minister of Justice announced that a new Code of Criminal Procedure was being drafted. When the host asked questions about the lawyer’s role in criminal procedure, how victims are treated, etc., the minister spoke enthusiastically, although he didn’t go into exact details about these changes.
I know full well that laws are just hollow words in Cuba in many instances, and they only apply when the State’s interest in the case is obvious. Even so, it would be a good idea that rights which are the most basic in neighboring countries are consecrated within Cuba’s upcoming Code of Criminal Procedure. For your information:
1- Victims’ right to appoint a lawyer to represent them in criminal cases, which is something that doesn’t exist today. Defendants are currently treated under Cuban procedural law as mere witnesses and their interests depend exclusively upon the prosecutor’s decisions.
2- The right of every person, who is considered a suspect of crime, to appoint a lawyer from before they enter an interrogation with or are summoned by the police. In light of the current Code of Criminal Procedure, a citizen can be held for several days without being charged or charges being formally brought against them, giving the charging party a significant window of time to gather proof and evidence against the accused, who is in a completely helpless situation, as they don’t have the legal right to see a lawyer.
3- The defendant’s right to an impartial court hearing before trial where it is decided whether protective orders are issued or not. Up until now, it’s the Prosecution that does this, which is to say that it is the charging party who determines whether the defendant remains free or is held until the trial. The most interesting thing here is that any complaint filed by the lawyer has to be addressed to the very same prosecutor that imposed the order in the first place, and it’s up to them whether this complaint is accepted or denied. They routinely deny it.
4- That the court is in fact impartial, because they can pronounce a sentence even when the prosecution withdraws its charges.
The above examples are just some of the double standards that can be found in Cuba’s Code of Criminal Procedure, which violate age-old legal principles which Law already establishes, such as the presumption of innocence until found guilty, or the equality of both parties in Court Proceedings, given the defendant’s right to a fair trial and due process with legal safeguards.
Let’s hope that the future Code of Criminal Procedure takes heed of the abovementioned principles. And once they are consecrated, they that don’t become empty words. However, I’m not very optimistic. Beyond legalities, I believe that we will continue to face these double standards.