Across the EU, people who have not been convicted of any crime are locked up without good reason for months or even years, often in appalling conditions, with limited access to a lawyer.
All states should protect the right to liberty and not use detention except where properly justified. Clearly, in some cases it is necessary to hold a person in custody for a certain period of time after arrest, for example, to ensure vital evidence is preserved or key witnesses are protected. But pre-trial detention is only acceptable where no alternative is available. Detention conditions must be sanitary, safe and humane. Even if pre-trial detention is justified, those held in detention should be given:
- facilities to prepare a defence;
- confidential communications with their lawyer; and
- a regular review of whether detention remains necessary.
Fair Trials International is calling on the EU to stop excessive detention without trial, and to require EU countries to make more use of alternatives. This includes not using pre-trial detention when alternatives are available; introducing EU legislation to end its arbitrary use; and not using extradition until cases are trial-ready. In 2011 the European Commission carried out a consultation on detention in the EU, and the responses showed 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, most recently in its report on the European Arrest Warrant, adopted in January 2014 and inits mid-term review of the Stockholm Programme, adopted in March 2014.
Meetings with members of our Legal Experts Advisory Panel from Spain, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Lithuania and France in 2012 and 2013 have demonstrated that our concerns regarding pre-trial detention decision making and practices remain a reality across the EU. In September 2013, along with 22 other NGOs, we wrote to the EU Commissioner for Justice – Viviane Reding – to call once again for further EU action on pre-trial detention but her response suggested that the Commission was prioritising other issues.
Fair Trials will continue to campaign to end excessive and arbitrary pre-trial detention, using our clients’ shocking first-hand accounts of their detention to highlight the effects it can have. In our major report – published in March 2014 – Stockholm’s Sunset: New horizons for Justice in Europe – the adoption of EU-wide minimum standards on pre-trial detention was highlighted as a key priority for EU justice policy.
Fair Trials International has produced a summary booklet on Pre-Trial Detention, which is available below. The summary is also available in French, Polish and Spanish.