EU countries abusing fair trial and liberty rights, new report shows
In a major report published this week, Fair Trials International reveals the extent to which EU countries are abusing the fundamental rights to liberty and a fair trial in their criminal justice systems.
The report shows an urgent need for reforms across Europe to improve basic protections for defence rights and end the misuse of pre-trial detention, which can last for up to four years in some EU countries and has no legal maximum in others.
Jago Russell, Chief Executive at Fair Trials International, said:
“Our report provides overwhelming evidence that suspects’ rights are being violated in police stations, court rooms and prisons across Europe. In a European Union founded on the rule of law and respect for basic human rights, these abuses cannot be allowed to continue. The EU has a crucial role to play in raising standards of justice in Europe, but if it fails to act now, citizens’ faith in EU laws like the European Arrest Warrant will be undermined.”
Every year, Fair Trials International helps hundreds of people arrested across Europe to defend their basic right to a fair trial. This report, to be launched at the European Parliament on 11 October, combines the shocking stories of some of these individuals with findings from a survey of lawyers across the EU and research on the violation findings of the European Court of Human Rights against EU countries over the past five years. The general trend is upwards, with fair trial and liberty cases taking up over half the Strasbourg Court’s time and many EU countries falling foul of the standards set by the European Convention on Human Rights, to which they are all signatories.
- Fair Trials International is a human rights charity that provides assistance to people arrested in a country other than their own and campaigns for reform to fight the underlying causes of injustice in cross-border cases. Fair Trials International wants to see respect for fundamental rights at the heart of EU justice policy. EU laws should make clearly defined fair trial standards directly enforceable in courts across Europe. People should not have to go to the human rights court in Strasbourg to uphold their rights. They should not lose their rights when they move from one EU country to another.
- Recognising this, in 2009, the EU finally agreed the “Procedural Rights Roadmap”, which promises a series of new laws, each protecting a key element of the right to a fair trial. Since then, there has been some progress, but there is still a long way to go.
- Fair Trials International’s report: As well as drawing on FTI’s own knowledge of criminal cases across Europe, and the expertise of our EU-wide network of criminal justice experts, this report brings together key findings from two in-depth research studies. It shows that:
- EU countries are responsible for a growing number of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights: liberty and fair trial rights are those most commonly breached;
- In many states, legal advice is not always provided, confidential access to clients is not guaranteed, and legal aid provision is inadequate;
- Standards of interpreting are often poor, as is access to prosecution information;
- Police misconduct against suspects in custody is going unpunished;
- Equality of arms and the presumption of innocence are not respected;
- There is insufficient protection for vulnerable suspects and defendants such as children and mentally or physically disabled people; and
- Unnecessary and excessive detention before trial blights many states’ systems and causes prison overcrowding; detainees often have no way to challenge their detention and alternatives are not available or not used.
- Web-based map: FTI has produced an interactive map of the EU providing an overview of the barriers to a fair trial in all 27 member states. This contains information on all 27 countries’ record over the last five years in the European Court of Human Rights on fair trial rights and pre-trial detention; Fair Trials International cases (where relevant); criticisms by international organisations, the local press and domestic NGOs; and guidance on criminal procedure and local sources of support (for some countries). See www.fairtrials.net/justice-in-europe
- FTI’s five point plan for EU action over the next two years:
- Completion of the Roadmap: The momentum generated towards improving defence rights must be maintained, to deliver strong new laws on the remaining three Roadmap rights: legal advice and representation; legal aid; and protections for vulnerable suspects.
- Effective implementation: The laws already passed under the Roadmap – on interpreting and translation; and information for accused persons – must be fully implemented and enforced by all EU countries. This must be monitored effectively by the European Commission, with enforcement action against Member States where necessary.
- Pre-trial detention: Reform of pre-trial detention in the EU is needed to put an end to its excessive and unjustified use in many Member States. The EU should facilitate work to prevent unnecessary and unjustified trial delays.
- European Arrest Warrant: Vital safeguards must be introduced into the European Arrest Warrant Framework Decision, to address the injustices that continue to be suffered under this system. Future judicial cooperation measures must also contain effective safeguards for human rights and against overuse.
- Audio-recording of police interviews: This offers an efficient, cost-effective method of ensuring that fundamental rights are protected in police stations and that accurate records of interviews are available (particularly where interpreters are used). FTI recommends work towards EU-wide adoption of this system.