EU: Report supports evidence of pervasive police violence disparately targeting racialised people  

Article by Fair Trials

Equality Data in criminal justice, a new report by criminal justice watchdog Fair Trials, has found evidence of pervasive police violence that disparately targets racialised people in criminal justice systems across Europe. The research into the collection of equality data in Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece and Romania, also found that people experienced negative interactions with the criminal justice system, from arrest through to sentencing, based on their ethnicity, race or other ‘foreign’ perceived status.

Researchers interviewed detained people whose criminal justice proceedings had started since January 2019. In total, 2,751 people were interviewed. As well as reports of police violence, the interviews revealed a failure to enforce procedural rights, lengthy pre-trial detention, poor detention conditions, and the excessive use of plea agreements.

Laure Baudrihaye-Gérard, Fair Trials’ European Legal Director, said:

“The collection of equality data provides additional evidence of structural discrimination and racism throughout criminal justice systems across Europe. It supports a wealth of research by civil society and reports by impacted people. But collecting evidence cannot be an end in itself. It cannot either further delay policy reform. We urgently need action to end police violence and tackle racism, and it’s vital that impacted people are at the front and centre of these reforms.”

“The police station chief beat me and had threatened me for a long time that he would put me in jail. He was giving people fines and calling me to sign these fines, and when I refused to do so, he told me he would put me in jail. He wrongfully arrested me for a crime I didn’t commit.”


Interviewee in Romania

Reports of police violence

The research found that police violence was pervasive across the researched jurisdictions, despite under-reporting through formal complaint mechanisms.

Greece: More than 50 per cent of people interviewed reported having been subject to violence or having witnessed others being subject to violence by the police during arrest or while in police custody. Out of those reporting violence, 82 percent identified as other than Greek.

Belgium: 29.5 per cent of those interviewed were subject to physical violence during arrest. A racial breakdown also showed that people of African descent were twice as likely to experience violence than people of Western European origin.

Bulgaria: 32 per cent of people interviewed in the country reported violence by the police. Double the number of people who identified as Roma reported violence compared to those who did not identify as Roma.

Romania: 18 percent of people interviewed reported violence – this share is higher among those who self-identified as Roma (27 percent) than among those who did not (15 percent).

Police violence, that’s been the norm for years. Blows when you’re handcuffed, arrests where they pin you to the ground and the police officer puts his foot on your throat to immobilise you even if you’re calm (…) violence is commonplace now, and more than that, it’s never punishable for those guys.


Interviewee in Belgium

Use of data to tackle discrimination

The EU has increasingly looked to the collection of disaggregated data on race and ethnicity as a way of providing evidence of racism and discrimination.  But Member States are not systematically collecting such data in respect of law enforcement and criminal justice.

The study also highlighted some of the challenges for States when collecting equality data about impacted people in Europe’s criminal justice systems. One of the main difficulties encountered related to the categorisation by ethnicity or race. This issue was further complicated by either the conflation or the strict separation between nationality and ethnic and racial origin in some of the reports. Disaggregating data by nationality can create a false perspective on discrimination – as having the nationality of a certain state does not shield racialised people from being relegated to a second tier citizenship status.

Read the full report here.