Anna Morris, a Garden Court barrister acting on behalf of the human rights charity Reprieve, has recently returned from Laos, where she arrived on the 2nd May in order to represent a young and pregnant British woman facing trial and the death penalty without ever having seen a lawyer.
Samantha Orobator, 20, from Camberwell, was arrested in August 2008 allegedly in possession of 0.6kg of heroin. Since being incarcerated, she has become pregnant in unclear circumstances. Until Anna's arrival in Laos, Samantha had never seen a lawyer or been given a date for her trial. She has now been appointed a lawyer by the Lao Government and he has been allowed to see her twice. Before arriving in Laos, Anna was assured by the Lao Government that she would be permitted to see Samantha on 3 occasions in order to assess her living conditions and take confidential instructions regarding the allegations. In fact, Anna was only allowed to see Samantha on one occasion, not at the prison, or in private, but in a meeting room and surrounded by 10 Lao Government officials.
On 7th May 2009, the British Government signed a prisoner transfer treaty with Laos under which Britain can request that a prisoner serve their sentence in the United Kingdom. If Samantha is tried and convicted under Lao law she could then be returned to serve any custodial sentence.
In recent days, the Lao Government has said that they will not hold the trial until Samantha names the father of her baby. She has already signed a statement whilst in custody claiming that she was not raped. The Lao Government maintains that their law prevents them from sentencing a pregnant woman to death. However, if the trial is delayed until after the birth, the death penalty will again be the mandatory sentence she will face. Reprieve is calling for her trial and return to take place before the start of her third trimester on 6th June 2009.
Garden Court is asking the Foreign Office to ensure that all Samantha's rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights will be guaranteed, including adequate time and facilities to consult with her court-appointed lawyer; to prepare her defence; to call and examine any witnesses required and to receive all appropriate medical treatment. We are also asking that, in the event Ms. Orobator is convicted - almost a foregone conclusion in Laos according to Reprieve, she should be permitted to serve her sentence back in Britain. Garden Court is also concerned about the delay being caused to the progress of Samatha's legal proceedings due to the satellite issue of the paternity of her child. We ask the Foreign Office to ensure that there is no undue delay in the return of this vulnerable young woman.