Uncovering anti-Roma discrimination in criminal justice systems in Europe

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This report presents a summary of the findings of research conducted by Fair Trials, in partnership with APADOR-CH, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, and Rights International Spain to provide further insight into the causes of Roma over-representation in the respective criminal justice systems of Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Spain.

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.

The findings show the prevalence of discriminatory views against Roma held by those working in the criminal justice systems of Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Spain.

These views are making the criminal justice system unfair for Roma defendants. Roma face structural discrimination throughout the criminal justice system from multiple actors – the police, judges, prosecutors, and even their own lawyers.

The criminal justice system involves a series of human decisions, with varying degrees of discretion for each decision-maker. This means that, at each step of the process, there is the potential for human bias to taint decisions and outcomes, even if there are objective rules and laws to be applied and followed. Where racism and anti-gypsyist attitudes are not only pervasive in society, but also normalised and engrained in the criminal justice system, they inevitably result in racially-biased decisions and outcomes. This report shows that this is precisely what is happening with Roma defendants. At every stage of criminal proceedings, from arrest until sentencing, they are vulnerable to discriminatory attitudes and biases that skew outcomes against them. The very system that is meant to impart fair and equal justice is, in fact, doing the opposite.

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.

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