Fair Trials research exposes anti-Roma discrimination in Europe's criminal justice systems

Article by Fair Trials

Fair Trials research, published today, shows the prevalence of discriminatory views against Roma in criminal justice systems of Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Spain.

The research was carried out in partnership with APADOR-CH, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, and Rights International Spain.

Uncovering anti Roma discrimination in criminal justice systems in Europe highlights how at every stage of criminal proceedings, from arrest until sentencing, Roma are vulnerable to discriminatory attitudes and biases that skew outcomes against them.

Fair Trials Legal Director, Bruno Min said:

Our research found that police and key decision-makers in criminal justice systems held racist attitudes about Roma it s especially worrying that some defence lawyers, who are meant to be fighting for their Roma clients rights, also shared such views.

These discriminatory attitudes have a real impact on decisions throughout the criminal justice process, from arrest until sentencing, and this means that the very system that is meant to impart fair and equal justice is, in fact, doing the opposite.

Many Roma defendants face a system where the odds are stacked against them, and without access to impartial legal assistance, they can count on no-one but themselves to fight injustice.

Key findings of the research


  • Various police officers admitted their belief in negative Roma stereotypes, such as the widespread and harmful association of Roma with criminality and voluntary underemployment. Some openly admitted to ethnic profiling, without recognising this practice as unjustified, harmful, and unlawful.
  • Police were also found to be targeting Roma for petty, nonviolent offences, including those committed out of economic hardship. There were several incidences of people being imprisoned for failing to pay disproportionately large fines for extremely minor offences that clearly did not warrant any police intervention.

Judges and prosecutors

  • Judges in certain countries have made overtly racist statements in their decisions regarding pre-trial detention, sentencing, and even the factual merits of criminal cases.
  • There were examples of offensive remarks by judges and prosecutors, bullying of their Roma colleagues, and a tendency to perceive Roma as being ignorant and insubordinate in the criminal justice system.

Defence lawyers

  • Defence lawyers openly admitted their reluctance to represent Roma defendants on account of perceptions of unreasonable behaviour or expectations, their alleged tendency to change their stories, and their low levels of education and literacy. It was also clear that some lawyers felt embarrassed about representing Roma defendants, and worried that it would damage their reputation.
  • Some lawyers gave shocking examples of openly racist comments made by other lawyers.

Fair Trials is calling for more to be done to tackle structural racism, within all criminal justice professions but particularly defence lawyers, given their role in protecting suspects rights.

Read Uncovering anti Roma discrimination in criminal justice systems in Europe here

Notes to Editor

Between 2019-2020, researchers conducted 97 interviews with police officers, prosecutors, judges, defence lawyers, and members of the Roma community in all four countries to understand perceptions of how anti-gypsyism impacts criminal justice decisions and outcomes. These were followed by consultations with various local experts and activists, in which the findings of the interviews were shared and discussed.

This animation portrays real life experiences uncovered in our research:

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