March 10, 2012
Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF) declared, on March 7, the unconstitutionality of the provisions of the laws of the states of Maranhão and Minas Gerais that place the Public Defender’s Service within the administrative structure of the state government, subordinating them to the governors. Conectas and the Pro Bono Institute appeared as “amicus curiae” in the Maranhão case and defended the unconstitutionality of the provisions.
The unanimous ruling was given in a joint hearing of Direct Actions of Unconstitutionality (ADIs) 3965 and 4056, both filed by the Office of the Attorney General. The court reasserted the functional and administrative autonomy of the Public Defender’s Service, guaranteed by the Brazilian Constitution, so it can effectively fulfill its institutional mission.
“These decisions will strengthen the Public Defender’s Service, an essential institution for access to justice and for guaranteeing the human rights of vulnerable people who require the legal assistance of the State,” said Juana Kweitel, program director at Conectas.
This decision by the STF reasserted the previous week’s precedent, when the court declared the unconstitutionality of the obligatory contract between the São Paulo Public Defender’s Service and the state’s Bar Association. On March 14, the STF is scheduled to hear ADIs 4270 and 3892, on the regulation of free legal counsel in the state of Santa Catarina, which currently stipulates that this service must be provided by a state-appointed lawyer who is a member of the state’s Bar Association.