Hungarian proposals may exacerbate pre-trial detention
Following the publication of its report on Pre-Trial Detention in Hungary (following a meeting coordinated with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee), Fair Trials International is concerned by reports of recent proposals by the Hungarian government to amend the Criminal Procedure Code, to remove limitations on the period of pre-trial detention for murder suspects facing prison sentences of 15 years or more if found guilty.
Fair Trials’ report highlighted excessive periods of pre-trial detention in Hungary, up to four years in some cases, along with often poor and unreasoned decision-making by judges and a failure to use alternatives to detention such as electronic-tagging. Fair Trials called for:
a) Improved standards of decision-making in pre-trial detention hearings, through focussed training of judges and prosecutors, the requirement for reasoned decisions to be produced and an increased role for the defence through full access to the case-file;
b) Increased use of alternatives to detention, including electronic-tagging, and training of judges and prosecutors as to when such alternatives are appropriate; and
c) Restrictions on the unjustified extension of pre-trial detention due to delays in investigation.
The findings set out in our report have been reiterated by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention following its recent visit to Hungary, when it raised concerns about a “culture of detaining” in Hungary and an “automatic system of approval” of prosecutors’ motions for pre-trial detention.
Whilst the reforms proposed by the Hungarian government demonstrate some progress, including through the introduction of electronic-tagging in certain cases and stricter timelines for producing expert evidence, the potential for unlimited periods of pre-trial detention to be used in certain cases would be a significant backwards step. It would lead to even more excessive periods of pre-trial detention for suspects, some of whom will eventually be cleared of any wrongdoing after years in prison. Surely, it is also against the interests of bereaved families for prosecutors to take more than four years to prosecute suspects.
These recent proposals clearly highlight the need for EU level action to be taken to address the problematic use of pre-trial detention across Member States. Fair Trials has made repeated calls for such action, most recently alongside 21 other civil society organisations in a letter to Vice-President Viviane Reding.
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