Havana lawyer asses Cuban legal system

 HAVANA,  may 29  The Cuban bar has no compunctions in voicing its displeasure with the Cuban legal system—particularly with the criminal justice system, inherited from the 17th century Spanish Inquisition—to government officials.

Yet, Havana attorney Osvaldo Miranda Diaz said, they are “getting tired of complaining.”

“Nothing changes,” he said. “The system is disgusting. There is no due process.

Miranda Diaz gave an overview of the Cuban legal system Thursday to a roomful of U.S. attorneys on a fact-finding trip to Cuba through the Florida Bar’s international section. The delegation of 30 attorneys—most from Florida—are staying in Havana through Saturday. They include former American Bar Association president Stephen Zack and lawyers from Genovese Joblove & Battista, Hinshaw & Culbertson, Squire Patton Boggs and Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.

The lawyers questioned Miranda Diaz extensively about the Cuban legal system—some expressing shock about the vast differences.

For one thing, Miranda Diaz said, Cuba has no jury system. Instead Cuba uses professional and nonprofessional judges who hear all cases, both at the trial and appellate level. Most have no desire to be judges or prosecutors, but agree to do a stint when “drafted” by the government, he said. Miranda Diaz himself reluctantly did two years as a judge, he said, when the government presented him with the option after law school of “judge or prosecutor.”

He explained how Cubans become lawyers. The whole selection process, as in all professions, is done by the government and based solely on a student’s test scores, he said. Would-be lawyers choose law as their top preference but may or may not be picked by the government.

The hopeful law students also do not get to choose their law school. There are about five law schools in the country, with Havana University the top one, Miranda Diaz said. To boost their chances of getting accepted into that school, students may use a fake Havana address, since one must live in Havana to be accepted there.

Far more women than men attend law school in Cuba, Miranda Diaz noted, with 79 percent of students female. Miranda Diaz’s hypothesis is that men are steered to the engineering field.

One statistic that baffles Cuban lawyers, though, is why only 10 percent of law students are black, since “we don’t have racism in this country,” according to Miranda Diaz.

Miranda Diaz explained the criminal justice system in Cuba to the shocked Americans. When a Cuban is arrested, he can be jailed without the right to see a lawyer or make a phone call for 72 hours. After a week, the prosecutor decides whether to grant the person bail or not.

At that point, he or she has just five days to hire a lawyer and does not get access to his or her criminal file until the case is through. This is despite the fact the island country claims an “innocent until proven guilty” philosophy.

“They can keep you in jail for one week and do what they want—interrogate you, do anything,” he said. “It’s like the Soviet system.”

On a positive note, bribery and corruption of judges does not occur in Cuba, Miranda Diaz said.

Like American lawyers, Cuban lawyers are bound by ethical guidelines, he noted. One of the more unusual ones: “Lawyers cannot be drunk during a trial.”

“We ought to adopt that one,” Zack cracked.

Legal fees are usually flat fees rather than hourly, Miranda Diaz said, which can be problematic since a case can last one week or one year.

International arbitrations are on the rise, he noted, but can only be used by foreigners.