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Justice in Europe

All over the world, basic rights are being violated every day in police stations, court rooms and prisons. This is causing miscarriages of justice, undermining public faith in criminal justice systems and getting in the way of cross-border cooperation.

What is the problem?

Europe is one of the wealthiest regions of the world; it is the home of the European Court of Human Rights, and respect for human rights is a founding principle of the European Union. Despite this, fair trial abuses are a daily reality in courts, police stations and prisons across Europe.  People are being detained for months or years before trial, denied information on their rights, and are not being given legal aid to pay for an effective lawyer or interpreter.

Even where laws have been passed to protect these rights, there is still a need for vigilance, to ensure the laws are properly implemented. The laws are also often evolving through caselaw.

Access to a lawyer

Central to our work on access to justice is being able to access a lawyer. When you’re taken to the police station, would you know what you should and shouldn’t say? Which documents to sign? It’s easy to contradict yourself or mix up details when you’re scared and confused. The problem is that these honest mistakes may be used against you further down the line.

That’s why one of your core fair trial rights is the right to a lawyer – someone who can translate legal jargon into a language you can understand, and guide you through complicated proceedings. Unfortunately, what counts as access to a lawyer isn’t always the same in each country.

Audio-visual recording

Interviewing suspects is often central to a case against someone, but it often takes place in secretive, closed-door sessions. It is often these early stages that determine the overall fairness of proceedings.

For example, during the pre-trial interrogation of suspects or accused persons, key evidence is often obtained and the admissibility of this evidence can determine the ultimate outcome of the case. Suspects and accused persons are exposed to the risk of torture and mistreatment during interrogations, due to the closed nature of this process and the desire to secure a confession or other evidence of guilt.

What do we want?

We believe Europe should be a beacon of respect for fair trial rights across the globe, with countries working together to ensure that every person accused of a crime is given a fair trial.

In the EU alone there are eight million people accused of crimes. Ensuring access to justice means making sure that they have access to all of the protections that come with procedural defence rights. As well as protecting the people accused of crimes, it will also increase trust in justice systems, and provide a sound basis for cooperation between countries.

We want to see the right of access to a lawyer respected everywhere. This is the most important way of ensuring that other rights are being respected.

The next best way of ensuring rights are protected in the initial stages are through audio-visual recording. Audio-visual recording of police interrogations can help prevent undue compulsion, torture and other ill-treatment during questioning, as well as provide protection to police officials against false allegations. Audio-visual recording can also help secure reliable evidence for criminal proceedings, offering a key protection against false confessions and wrongful convictions.

The US-based Innocence Project highlights the importance of audio-visual recording to prevent miscarriages of justice: “the entire interrogation – during the time in which a reasonable person in the subject’s position would consider himself to be in custody and a law enforcement officer’s questioning is likely to elicit incriminating responses – should be electronically recorded. This is simply the only way to create an objective record of what transpired during the course of the interrogation process”.

What are we doing?

Working with our network of legal experts from across Europe (the Legal Experts Advisory Panel (LEAP)  we have led calls for action by the European Union to improve standards of criminal justice.

Our work for access to justice has been wide-ranging, including:

  • Helping people to understand their rights and access local expertise by producing Notes of Advice on criminal justice systems in Europe.
  • Using human stories of injustice from our casework to demonstrate the need for reforms;
  • Working with our partners and networks to understand the barriers to fair trials across Europe and to design solutions;
  • Working for the proper implementation of EU law, through strategic litigation and training; We have, for example,  intervened in a case at the European Court of Human Rights to encourage the Court to look at remedies when proper access to a lawyer is not provided. Much of this work is done through or involving our LEAP network.
  • Working with partners we have mapped the use of audio-visual recording across the EU and beyond. The research gathered information on legislation and practice through our LEAP network, as well as academic literature and other relevant materials.
Key Stats

"Thank you for providing such great work for people like me in such hard times."

Maltese client detained in Spain


The number of country advice guides for Europe



Fair Trials is now a recognised expert and leading voice for justice in Europe and our work is paying off:

  • We have helped to secure ground-breaking and enforceable new laws which guarantee crucial defence rights to all suspects and defendants across the whole of the EU;
  • We have ensured that continued work for fair trials in Europe has remained on the agenda;
  • We have built a network of fair trials defenders in Europe, and have provided training to practitioners from across the EU;
  • We have helped countless people accused of crimes in Europe to access information on their rights and local sources of support and have prevented serious cases of injustice. 

We are now closer than ever before to achieving justice in Europe – but much more remains to be done. You can help us to reach this goal: get involved and support our work.

Key Stats


The number of people affected each year whose rights are better protected because of better protections we fought for


Number of times our information guides have been accessed in the last 12 months

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Some activities in the following sections on this website are funded by the European Union’s Justice Programme (2014-2020): Legal Experts Advisory Panel, Defence Rights Map, Case Law Database, Advice Guides, Resources, Campaigns, Publications, News and Events. This content represents the views of the authors only and is their sole responsibility. It cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.