Defendant’s cages like the one housing Hosni Mubarak, 83, in an Egyptian courtroom still are used in parts of the Middle East, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, NPR reports. The practice seems to have originated from a time “when captives were put in cages in ancient Rome and Mesopotamia,” says law Prof. M. Cherif Bassiouni of DePaul University, who has worked for the United Nations on human-rights issues. By the Middle Ages, defendant’s cages were a regular feature of many European courts. “The original rationale for doing it was the fear that criminal defendants would attack or intimidate witnesses or judges,” Bassiouni says.
The use of cages has declined over time, but it persists in places like Russia, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Egypt, as well as very occasionally for “especially violent criminals” in Spain, Italy, France, and Germany, says Jenia Iontcheva Turner, a professor at SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas. In the U.S., a 48-year-old woman was held in a cage during a pretrial hearing last month in Westminster, Ca. Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch says that while placing someone in a defendant’s cage might sometimes be justified, it undercuts the presumption of innocence. “There are certainly less extreme means you can use to protect the proceedings, such as handcuffs,” she says.