• Robert Spicer

Law In Cuba

Cuba and human rights The Cuban Constitution of 1976 sets out all the rights recognised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and includes the following: • The obligation of the state to assure the economic and social well-being of the collective. • Positive social and economic rights: the right to work, right to social security, free health care and free education. The right to work is balanced by a duty to work. • Equality of rights and duties and the prohibition of discrimination. • Individual liberties, for example freedom of speech in keeping with the objectives of a socialist society. Capitalist democracy is seen as a democracy for a majority of exploiters and as a form of oppression of the majority. US and UK jurisprudence puts individual autonomy and property rights above group rights and collective economic and social well-being. Socialist legality is concerned with collective well-being based on egalitarian values. It imposes limitations of individual liberties for the collective good. Political expression is restricted where it conflicts with state policy. The Cuban Communist party is the only lawful political party. All efforts to organise internal dissent have been linked to US efforts to destabilise the government.

Lawyers in Cuba Evanson reports the following: • The 1959 revolution destroyed the private practice of most Havana law firms. The practice of law was considered to be a parasitic bourgeois profession. • In many countries, the practice of the law tends to smack of professional elitism and questionable ethics. • The revolution resulted in a decline in the role of the courts for dispute resolution. Legal education shrank to virtual extinction. • The Law on the Organization of the Judicial System (1973) eliminated the private practice of law. • Legal services are provided by bufetes colectivos (collective law offices) which are the exclusive providers of legal services. Services are provided at modest rates or free for those who cannot pay. The National Organization of Collective Law Offices (ONBC) comprises 2000 lawyers supplying free or low price legal services.The bufetos colectivos reportedly provide legal services to almost one million people every year. Issues range from traditional civil, administrative, penal and labour matters to more specialized matters, for example banking and commercial cases. The ONBC has staff who obtain official documents on behalf of clients. There is a fixed tariff for each procedure. Contracts for legal services specify the price of the service and the rights and obligations of the parties. • Cuban lawyers are expected to support socialist ideology and to work for the perfection of socialist law.Lawyers are called upon specifically to educate their clients and other citizens with respect to their legal rights. • Legal education, room and board are free. Books are available at highly subsidised prices. In return, law graduates must work at a bufete for three years. The Cuban population has come to expect relatively easy access to legal services in a system which has substantially diminished inequality in law and the legal process. Legal representation is no longer a privilege of class. Cuba is closer to guaranteeing access to justice than most countries.

Cuban judicial system People’s Popular Courts were established after the revolution to deal with private disputes and petty crime. Judges were elected and sat on a part-time basis. Revolutionary Tribunals under military control dealt with war crimes and imposed death sentences. Under the reforms of 1973, Revolutionary Tribunals and People’s Popular Courts were abolished. Part-time lay judges now sit alongside professional judges in all cases. Lay judges in Cuba, who sit alongside professional judges, are elected peasants, workers and housewives. The comment has been made that, in this context, justice can be seen as reflecting the popular will.

Cuban law and equality Under the 1976 Constitution discrimination because of race, colour, sex or national origin is forbidden and is punished by law. The institutions of the state educate everyone, from the earliest possible age, in the principle of equality among human beings. For example: • In 1979 all criminal penalties for abortion were eliminated. • In 1961 all private schools were abolished. • The private renting of housing has been abolished. • There is freedom to practise religion except Jehovah’s Witnesses because their beliefs oppose service to the state, especially military service. • There are no religious holidays and Christmas is a work day. • The primary aim of the family, and the aim of family law, is to contribute to the development and upbringing of children in accordance with socialist values, and to provide for the emotional needs of individuals. • There is a legal obligation for men and women to share housework.



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