BY JANE L. DALTON CHANCELLOR OF THE PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION Many firms with Philadelphia offices are in fact providing pro bono services to Guantanomo detainees, and to dozens of other clients whom the average person might find offensive.
They are to be commended.
Lawyers who practice in this country are obligated to be mindful of deficiencies in the administration of justice, and that the poor and the near-poor cannot afford adequate legal assistance. Therefore, all lawyers are asked to devote time and resources and use civic influence to ensure equal access to our system of justice for all those who, because of economic or social barriers, cannot afford or secure adequate legal counsel.
Throughout our history, it has been our commitment to basic principles of justice – even for the most unpopular among us – that has allowed us to maintain the highest of moral standards, the most strategically important high ground as we struggle to uphold freedom.
The pro bono representation of Guantanamo detainees reminds us that all individuals have a right to habeas corpus review – the judicial order to bring a prisoner to court and justify the detention. It has been a basic instrument under which courts in common-law systems have protected citizens against wrongful imprisonment.
This was designed to protect both society and the citizenry. By making the legal system accountable, we ensure that no one is falsely imprisoned. The writ of habeas corpus in common-law countries is one of the most important instruments for the safeguarding of individual freedom, the foundation of democracy.
Everyone who faces loss of liberty deserves legal counsel. The infringement of this tenet on anyone is a violation to all in our society. This value is the cornerstone of our Constitution. If our nation is truly committed to justice, we must recognize the need for vigorous and impassioned defense of all causes, unpopular or otherwise.
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