Paulina Quintao – Based on the monitoring done by the Human Rights Association (HAK) of prisoners' situation, many complain of lack of contact with the public defender who defended them in court.
The Executive Director of HRA, Manuel Monteiro said also many prisoners lament because their public defenders do not go visit them clients to discuss how they cases are progressing.
He said some prisoners are supposed to be released when they serve half their sentence but do not because their cases is followed up on by their public defender.
"Many prisoners have no idea about their public defenders. They do not visit them to talk about preparations for negotiating their release," he said at the Ministry of Justice in Dili.
He added if public defenders are active in collecting information about their clients from prison guards about positive attitude and good behavior there is a good chance they can propose to the court an early release.
Meanwhile, the Director of the Judicial System Monitoring Program (JSMP), Luis de Oliveira Sampaio said the Penal Code states the right of prisoners who have fulfilled half of their sentence to get conditional release, but this does not happen.
He added the main challenge is that prisoners do not have adequate communication with either public defenders or private lawyers.
"When they have good communication with their defenders and lawyers, they can use their right for release before completing their sentence," he said.
He said there are several criteria to apply for the right of early release including good behavior inside the prison but good communication between prison services, prisoners and public defenders is need.
In response to the issue, Public Defender General, Sergio J. Hornai said public defenders go and visit the clients in prison for important issues, in particular for interviews because there are many technical issues needed to strengthen arguments in court.
He said public defenders have very good coordination with prison services and that they share information to each other about the situation of prisoners and that they do not ignore their clients.
"The responsibility of the public defender is to protect the right of citizens in particular those who are in conflict with the justice system, during investigation, trial and with other resources. Their focus is to analyze and learn about the law to strengthen their arguments," he said.
He added public defenders usually visit their clients every 15 days but sometimes due to the work load they are unable to go but nominate an official of the justice to go instead.
In relation to an early release he added that there are criteria that needs to be followed and it does not mean an immediate release.
The public defenders receive an assessment report on those who have served half their sentence with good behavior so they case can be processed for early release.