Detention, access to a lawyer and human rights

Samantha Orobator, held on drug smuggling charge in Laos prison, but denied access to a lawyer.

Students wanting to be able to compare UK police powers and safeguards against infringement of individual rights may find the recent case of Samantha Orobator helpful.  Samantha reportedly became pregnant in Phonthong prison where she had been held since last December.  

It is also of some considerable concern to such agencies as Reprieve, a legal charity, that although she is facing a possible death sentence for drug smuggling she has allegedly been refused access to a lawyer.

Reprieve ‘uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay’. According to Reprieve ‘their vision is of a world in which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is honoured by all governments, everywhere in the world, in every situation, regardless of the extremity of circumstances faced by a particular government or society’.

In the UK suspects have certain rights including the right to legal advice. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, as amended, and the supplemental Codes of Practice strive to strike the right balance between the needs of the individual and society as a whole. This case is a timely reminder that other authorities may operate with other priorities.

In this country there are a growing number of examples of individuals who may have been dealt with differently by the courts and authorities had it not been for the Human Rights Act 1998.  There are widely drawn provisions to ensure a fair trial. It could be argued that the authorities are too generous in their interpretation and application in this country.

What safeguards are operating to protect Samantha?

Amnesty International are actively involved in safeguarding the rights of Samantha and others in similar predicaments, and on a note of realism have emphasised that no one has been executed in Laos since 1989.

Samantha has now been found guilty of smuggling heroin and sentenced to life in jail.  The mandatory death sentence was commuted to life due to her pregnancy.  No doubt there will now be moves to ensure that she serves out her sentence in a British jail.

Samantha has now (August 2009) been flown back to Heathrow Airport, where she was met by police and taken to Holloway Prison, in London.  Her lawyers have made damning statements about  her "disgraceful 'show trial' conviction".

Orobator pleaded guilty to smuggling heroin and would have faced the death penalty in Laos had she not been pregnant.

Samantha has taken time to say in public "I am enormously relieved and happy to be back on British soil. It has been an unimaginable nightmare."

The issue of whether Samantha should serve out the whole of her commuted sentenced will no doubt be the subject of speculation in the future.


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