Prison litigators


There is no NGO involved as prison litigator in Austria.

As to prison litigation, there is the Austrian bar association that deals with this issue (among others), without specializing in general on prison matters. Over 200 lawyers are members of the association.


Public legal aid system

The system of publicly funded legal aid in Bulgaria is organized by the National Legal Aid Bureau (NLAB) and the local Bar councils. Among its other competences, the NLAB is responsible for maintaining the register of attorneys who can act as ex officio appointed counsels. At the beginning of 2015 the number of attorneys registered with the NLAB exceeds 5 000. The legal aid system does not envisage field-specialization of lawyers. The NLAB is also the authority competent to grant primary legal aid in civil and administrative matters. During pre-trial proceedings in criminal and trial proceedings in criminal, civil and administrative cases legal aid lawyer might be appointed by the local Bar council upon request of the court, the investigating magistrate or police officer.

Since 2013, free-of-charge legal advice and information are available via a national primary legal aid hotline and at the local legal aid centres in Vidin and Sliven. Both services are organized by the NLAB and are provided by legal aid lawyers.


England and Wales

Since the early 1970s prison litigation played a leading part in the development of public law as a whole. The landmark cases: Silver, Golder, Saint Germain, Leech, Hague introduced the judicial intervention and made it increasingly relevant in prison life. Litigation for prisoners on prison law issues will generally be in public law proceedings for judicial review or private claims for damages.

The following subjects play a highly important role in prison litigation.


The NGO “Prison archive” (Strafvollzugsarchiv)

This organisation has started in the 1970s at the University of Bremen (North of Germany) with the objective to document and explain prisoners´ rights and prison laws. Led by Professor Johannes Feest over the last decade, it is now legally active also since 2011 at the University of Dortmund under the direction of Professor Christine Graebsch (who is also a lawyer).

Beyond that, students go to the prisons of Bremen every week and give legal advice to prisoners. There are also between 600 and 800 prisoners who write every year to Professor Feest.

Professor Feest with his comments of prison law and Professor Graebsch with her Articles on prison remedies – among others – have strongly influenced the perception and the knowledge about prison legal issues, and certainly contributed to a stronger protection of prisoners´ rights than it would have been without their contribution to NGO Prison archive.

Professor Graebsch and Dr. Burkhardt (Lawyer) provide also legal support – in their function of lawyer (and not as NGO representative) – to prisoners before court (up to maximum 10 cases a year).


Organisation Type Name Description Website
Legal Association Irish Criminal Bar Association (ICBA) Forum for barristers which aims to promote the highest standards in the practice of Criminal Law
Dublin Solicitors Bar Association (DSBA) Largest Bar Association in Ireland, promotes the welfare and interests of its members
Law Society of Ireland (Criminal Law Committee) Educational, representative and regulatory body of the solicitors’ profession in Ireland
The Bar of Ireland (The Law Library) Representative body for the barrister’ profession in Ireland
*Independent Law Centres Network (ILCN) National association of Independent law centres committed to upholding equality and access to justice through effective use of the law
Information Service British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILI) Provides free online access to British and Irish primary legal materials
Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) Human rights organisation which promotes equal access to justice for all
Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA) Public interest law network seeking to engage the legal community and civil society in using the law to advance social change
Private Law Firm KOD Lyons Provide legal advice and services in the area of Criminal Justice and Human Rights
KRW Law Provide legal advice and specialise in, inter alia, Human Rights, Prison Law and Civil Litigation
McIntyre O’Brien Solicitors Providing advice and representation for prisoners in various areas of prison law
Michael J. Staines & Co. Solicitors Shape and challenge the protection of rights of those involved at various stage of the criminal justice process
Peter Connolly (Court Solicitor) Provide advice and representation in a variety of legal practice areas, including prison litigation
Philip Hannon Solicitors Provide advice and representation in a variety of legal practice areas
Sheehan & Partners Provide advice and representation for criminal and general litigation of all kinds
National Human Rights Institution Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Independent public body set up to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding across Irish society.


Antigone (public campaigns, observatory on prison condition)

Antigone is an Italian Ngo born in 1991 and dealing with human right protection in penal and penitentiary system. Antigone is involved in litigation thanks to its Extrajudicial Counselling Service in Regina Coeli in Rome, but it’s mainly focused on public campaigns and cultural movement on prison issues (through education, media, publications and the academic review «Antigone»). Antigone runs an Observatory on Italian prisons, involving around 50 people, active since 1998, when Antigone received from the Ministry of Justice special authorizations to visit prisons with the same power that the law gives to parliamentarians.

Every year Antigone’s Observatory publishes a Report on Italian penitentiary system. Online version of the report describes the situation of each prison involved in the project, while the paper version is mainly based on essays describing the general situation of Italian prison system. Antigone leads also a European Observatory on prisons involving nine European Countries and funded by the European Union.

Through a prison Ombudsman to which it gave birth, Antigone also collects complaints from prisons and police stations and mediates with the Administration in order to solve specific problems.

Altro Diritto (litigation, legal counseling, documentation centre)

The Documentation Centre L’Altro diritto, established in 1996 at the Department of Theory and history of law of Florence University, is actively engaged in theoretical reflection and sociological research in the fields of social marginality, deviance, prison and detention institutions, and makes the most relevant and accomplished results of this activity available to social operators and scholars through its Web site. Born as a documentation Center L’Altro Diritto has become an important NGO actively involved in prisoners’ rights protection, through litigation and mediation with penitentiary administration, thanks to its Extrajudicial Counselling Service. In 2010 Altro Diritto has signed an agreement with the Ministry of Justice that formalizes the role of the centre in promoting prisoners’ rights and giving them free legal counseling.

Altro Diritto is active in most of Tuscany’s prisons and in Bologna, Palermo and Brescia’s prisons. The 160 members of Altro Diritto are students, researchers and professors of the faculty of law. They give legal advices, help prisoners to fill claims and to seize the Court. At the same time they mediate with prison administration to solve cases and to effectively allow prisoners to access their rights.

In 2012 Altro Diritto has been named Ombudsman of San Gimignano’s prison. It’s the first time in which the role of ombudsman in recognized to an NGO and not to an individual.

Recently Altro Diritto has been deeply involved in supporting prisoners to apply to Italian surveillance Courts for compensatory remedy (art. 35-ter of Penitentiary Law) for violation of art. 3 of European convention. Altro Diritto has directly assisted inmates detained in Tuscany and in Bologna’s prison. The application form and a guide have been made public on the website and, thanks to the network of Ombudsmen, have been made available in all Italian prisons. Information and qualitative data collected by Altro Diritto for assisting and supporting prisoners have been used to realize the present report.

Osservatorio Camere Penali (observatory on prison condition)

Osservatorio Camere Penali is the Prison observatory of Bar association-Criminal justice section. It’s an interesting source of qualitative data about the prison conditions. It was established in 2006 and it’s organized in regional observatory centers, one for each district. Members of the Observatory contribute, with documents and proposals, to the debate in the field of criminal justice. Regularly they visit prisons for monitoring the respect fundamental rights of prisoners. Reports of the visits are published on their website and have been used for compiling this report.

Ristretti Orizzonti (documentation centre, public campaigns)

Ristretti Orizzonti is one of the main source of data and information about Italian prison system. It’s an NGO active in Padova’s prison, involving in its activities more than 80 inmates, and collects, elaborates and publishes all kind of data related to the penitentiary world, together with a daily newsletter with press reviews and a newspaper written by the inmates.

This report uses data published by Ristretti orizzonti, especially those contained in the report about food suppliers and in the one about deaths in prison.


The Ombudsman for the rights of detainees has been introduced only in 2008 in Italian legal system. They haven’t any real and effective power but now they have the right to enter into prisons without any authorization (art. 68 of penitentiary law) and the prisoners have the right to ask meeting and to send letters (art. 18) or to file a claim to ombudsmen (art. 35). But they haven’t any power to promote investigations or inspections, they have no access to the prisoners’ files and they cannot appeal to the Court. Most of Ombudsmen use these limited powers to sensitize public opinion and to publicly denounce rights violations

The national Ombudsmen for prisoners’ rights has been appointed for the first time on February 2016. It is a collegiate body, composed by one chairman and two members, that remain in office once for 5 years without any remuneration but with a reimbursement. Ombudsmen are chosen by the President of Republic, but the proposal comes from the Council of Ministers. The office of Ombudsman is inside the department of ministry of justice and its staff is composed by personnel of this department.


Public legal aid system

The legal aid system in Romania is differently organized in civil an criminal proceedings. The civil law – meaning proceedings other than criminal – provides several types of legal aid such us the payment of the lawyers fees, the payment of the expert, translator or interpret and tax exemptions or rescheduling. On the other side, the criminal law provides that the suspect or the accused person has the right to be assisted by an ex officio lawyer, in cases the assistance of a lawyer is mandatory and he cannot afford a lawyer. An ex officio lawyer is mandatory namely during proceedings before a final conviction and in some limited cases provided by the law (such as minors, the detention provided by law is superior to 5 years, adoption of preventive measure) and is some cases after final conviction (for example when the convicted person contests some measures, other the the detention conditions, taken during execution).

The Law on execution of punishments provides that the legal aid is not mandatory in cases the convicted person contested the regime of execution. Although the constitutionality of this provision was contested before the Constitutional Court, the judges decided, on several occasions, that the right to a mandatory legal aid is a limited right and  in other cases they have guaranteed the constitutional right to defense. The right to defense, as understood by ECtHR and the Constitutional Court may involve, in some cases, that the state provides legal aid. The applicability of the civil law to cases related to execution of punishments, although unclear in jurisprudence and in law, can be sustained by several arguments such as: after conviction, all proceedings are civil, according to the EctHR jurisprudence, the National Union of Romanian Bars protocol signed with the Minister of Justice in 2015 related to legal aid states that in some cases an ex officio lawyer can be named by the judicial authorities. Finally, if the convicted person chooses to challenge the conditions of detention based on civil law – tort law – in order to seek compensation, the civil legal aid system as mentioned above is applicable.

  • Asociatia Nationala a Barourilor din Romania – The National Association of Romanian Bars


  • Romanian Helsinki Committee – APADROR CH
  • LADO – Liga Apararii Drepturilor Omului Filiala Satu Mare
  • LADO – Liga Apararii Drepturilor Omului Filiala Cluj
  • The European Association for the Defence of Human Rights – Asociaţia Europeană pentru Apărarea Drepturilor Omului, AEPADO
  • Equality and Human Rights Action Centre – Centrul de Acţiune pentru Egalitate si Drepturile Omului – ACTEDO
  • GRADO Association – The Romanian Group for the Defence of Human Rights


  1. General Council of Spanish Lawyers (Consejo General de la Abogacía Española)

    1. Subcommittee on Prison Law
  2. Main bar associations where the service for legal advice in prison (S.O.J.P.) is available

    1. Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Sevilla
    2. Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Pamplona
    3. Real e ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Zaragoza
    4. Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Madrid
    5. Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Valencia
    6. Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Toledo
    7. Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Valladolid
    8. Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Álava
    9. Council of the Bar Association of Catalonia
  3. NGOs / associations:

    1. Observatory of the Penal System and Human Rights – University of Barcelona
    2. Volunteers Association for Female Prisoners ACOPE (Asociación de Colaboradores con las mujeres Presas)
    3. Coordinating Committee for the Prevention of Torture (Coordinadora para la Prevención de la Tortura)
    4. Spain’s National Preventive Mechanism – The Ombudsman
    5. Association for Mediation and Pacification (Asociación de Mediación y pacificación)
    6. Human Right’s Association of Andalucía – Prisons (Asociación pro Derechos Humanos Andalucía – Cárceles)
    7. IRIDIA – Centre for the Defence of Human Rights