Pre-trial detention

Guest post: arbitrary arrests and detention in Malawi

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Andrew Symeou

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Justice in Europe: Interactive Defence Rights Map

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What is the problem?

Globally, there are currently close to three million people being held in pre-trial detention. Detained without charge and for an indefinite period, the human toll can be immense. Clearly, in some cases it is necessary to detain a person for a certain period of time after arrest, for example, to ensure vital evidence is preserved or key witnesses are protected. All states should protect the right to liberty and use pre-trial detention as a last resort, and only when properly justified.

What do we want?

Fair Trials is campaigning for international human rights standards on pre-trial detention to be more widely understood and applied in practice. In our major report published in March 2014, Stockholm’s Sunset: New Horizons for Justice in Europe,” which built upon our 2011 report, “Detained without Trial,” we argued for the adoption of EU-wide minimum standards on pre-trial detention. These include:

  • Ensuring that the procedure for pre-trial detention decisions complies with all aspects of the right to a fair trial;
  • Not using extradition until cases are trial-ready;
  • Considering the proportionality of detention and the use of alternatives to pre-trial detention;
  • Enabling detainees are given the best opportunity to prepare for trial, through safeguarding detention conditions.

What are we doing?

Fair Trials is passionate about preventing the unjustified and excessive use of pre-trial detention. Starting in Europe, we are:

  • Calling on the EU to put in place clear minimum standards limiting pre-trial detention to cases where it is properly justified, requiring the more effective use of alternatives and requiring proper, regular reviews of decisions to detain;
  • Highlighting our clients’ shocking first-hand accounts to provide vital evidence of the human impact of unjustified pre-trial detention;
  • Providing advice and support to people who are affected by pre-trial detention;
  • Organising legal training for defence practitioners across Europe, enabling them to understand international standards and ensure that they are respected in practice; and
  • Gathering evidence of how pre-trial detention is being used in practice, through a collaborative project conducted between ourselves and partners from all over the EU.

Impact

Ending unjustified pre-trial detention will require a variety of solutions, including properly trained defence lawyers, clearer legal rules that are easier to apply and enforce, and the development of fair and workable alternatives to detention. Crucially, these must be adapted to local needs and challenges.

Fair Trials has built an EU-wide network of fair trials defenders who are now working with us to analyse the problems in practice with pre-trial detention in their own countries and, crucially, to design targeted solutions. Informed by their experience, we have helped to secure new laws that will give defence lawyers access to the information they need to challenge detention.

We have also led the calls for EU-wide action to tackle unjustified pre-trial detention. In 2011, the European Commission carried out a consultation on detention in the EU, with widespread support for action from civil society and member states. The European Parliament has also called for reform of pre-trial detention in the EU.