Contributing to the implementation of custody hearings in Brazil

The APT recently launched a three-year project* to maximise the potential of custody hearings – the practice of presenting a person arrested before a judge in the first hours of detention – as a practical tool to prevent torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Three Brazilian states (Alagoas, Mato Grosso and Rio de Janeiro) were chosen to pilot the first phase of the project, which includes monitoring custody hearings and strengthening the capacity of judges.

Gradually introduced in the country since February 2015, custody hearings have a strong potential to prevent torture and ill-treatment. Indeed, they allow for detainees to be presented before a judge within the first 24 hours of detention, a time during which judges can detect potential abuses and hear first-hand accounts from detainees.

If their mere introduction has already significantly reduced police abuse, both the structure of custody hearings and the capacity of judges to detect potential signs of torture and ill-treatment during these hearings are key to their effective conduct. The APT therefore held different activities in the pilot states of Mato Grosso and Alagoas both to identify good practices in terms of these hearings’ structure, and to train judges to carry them out effectively.

1. Monitoring custody hearings to identify good practices

In March 2018, the APT monitored 55 custody hearings over a week in Cuiabá, the capital city of the state of Mato Grosso. A series of good practices were identified, in particular regarding the structure of custody hearings:

  • Transparency and openness of the hearings;
  • Presence of families allowed; and
  • Psycho-social support of detainees by a professional team.

APT's National Delegate, Sylvia Dias, visits custody hearings facilities in the state of Mato Grosso, accompanied by Judge Marcos Faleiros, head of the custody hearings unit.

The APT also monitored 45 hearings over a week in Alagoas, during which it observed the good practice that most detainees were heard by judges without handcuffs, as recommended in the National Council of Justice (NCJ)’s Resolution 213/2015. Moreover, judges who took part to an APT workshop last year were more prompt to ask questions related to torture and ill-treatment and to follow up on allegations of abuse.

2. Training judges to carry out effective custody hearings

In June 2018, the APT held a two-day workshop for 30 criminal judges from the Tribunal of Justice of Mato Grosso to strengthen their capacities to detect signs of torture and ill-treatment during custody hearings. The APT team was accompanied by a Brazilian judge, Luis Lanfredi, who coordinated the operationalisation of custody hearings throughout Brazil. Judges were able to exchange ideas and challenges regarding the identification of signs of torture and ill-treatment through debates and practical exercises, including role play.

The Director of APT's regional office for Latin America, Audrey Olivier Muralt, during the training of judges in Mato Grosso.

The APT will follow-up on the capacity-strengthening activity in Mato Grosso to assess both progress made and practices changed. The materials developed will be part of a training kit to the intention of all judges in Brazil.

*The project takes place within the framework of a Memorandum of Understanding signed with the NCJ in 2016, with a view to strengthening the implementation of custody hearings in the country, in accordance with the guidelines set out in Resolution 213.