Defending theHuman Rightto a Fair Trial
A person charged with a criminal offence faces the overwhelming power of the state. The Right to a Fair Trial therefore requires that the defendant be given a Fair Chance to Present a Defence in order to counteract this imbalance. This requirement for “equality of arms” is inherent to the Presumption of Innocence and the Rule of Law.
Access to a lawyer is crucial to this and this right starts from the point of arrest and through the trial itself. People need access to legal advice so that they can understand the case against them and have a Fair Chance to Present a Defence. If a defendant has the means to pay, he/she should be able to choose their own lawyer. If the person cannot afford to pay for their own lawyer, where the interests of justice require, the state should provide free legal assistance.
A person facing criminal charges must have the time and facilities to prepare a defence. This right exists at all stages of the proceedings and encompasses the right to documents, files, and information as well as a guarantee of confidential communication with counsel (see Open Justice). Although undue delays in criminal proceedings often contradict the Right to a Fair Trial, fast-track trials can also deny people a Fair Chance to Present a Defence.
Crucially, during the trial itself people must have a Fair Chance to Present a Defence under conditions that do not place them at a disadvantage versus their opponent. This will require the free assistance of an interpreter if the person cannot understand or speak the language used in court. The person should be allowed to be present at hearings which is also crucial to Open Justice and should be given the chance to make a statement. Except in exceptional circumstances, people must also be given the right to call witnesses and examine or have examined witnesses in the same manner as the prosecution.
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Fair Trials Europe is a registered public foundation in Belgium (No. 552688677).
Fair Trials Europe was founded by Fair Trials International
(a registered charity with limited liability in England and Wales, Nos 1134586 and 7135273),
together they form Fair Trials.