Letters of rights in plain language
EU law requires that Member States provide anyone who has been arrested or detained with a written document that explains their rights in simple and accessible language (a letter of rights). However, the quality of information being provided varies. In some countries, the letters consist of cut and pasted excerpts taken from complicated national laws. People who have been arrested, and who are in a vulnerable situation, often don’t read these documents or don’t understand them. As a result, they may not know their rights or how to exercise them.
If you can’t understand your rights and the language used in the justice system, you don’t have meaningful access to justice. Documents should be clear enough (in wording, structure and design) for the intended audience to easily find, understand and use the information they need. Generally, there is limited awareness of the importance of plain language among criminal justice professionals. Clear communication, not only benefits suspects and defendants (who need to understand their rights in order to exercise them); it can also facilitate the work of law enforcement and increase public trust in justice.
Fair Trials has worked with its partners (the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, APADOR-CH and Antigone), LEAP members and plain language experts from across Europe to improve communication with people in the criminal justice system and to create new, easy to understand, letters of rights. We have also developed an online training platform available in 10 languages for criminal justice professionals.
Different letters of rights exist for children, adults, detained or free suspects, and persons subject to a European Arrest Warrant. We decided to focus on letters of rights provided to detained adult suspects, but a similar rewriting exercise should be done for all letters of rights.
Below, you can find examples of letter of rights written in plain language. Some have already been designed, others are text that can be copied and used.
Please contact us if you have any feedback on these letters or if you would like to distribute them in your country.