Defending the
Human Right
to a
Fair Trial

Pre-trial detention

Policy Report: Pre-Trial Detention in the EU

Read more

Andrew Symeou

View case

Pre-trial Detention Recognised as EU Priority ahead of report launch

View story

What is the problem?

Globally, there are currently close to three million people being held in pre-trial detention. Detained without a trial and for an indefinite period, the human toll can be immense. Clearly, in some cases it is necessary to detain a person for a certain period of time after arrest, for example, to ensure vital evidence is preserved or key witnesses are protected. All states should protect the right to liberty and use pre-trial detention as a last resort, and only when properly justified.

What do we want?

Fair Trials is campaigning for international human rights standards on pre-trial detention to be more widely understood and applied in practice. In our major report published in March 2014, Stockholm’s Sunset: New Horizons for Justice in Europe,” which built upon our 2011 report, “Detained without Trial,” we argued for the adoption of EU-wide minimum standards on pre-trial detention. These include:

  • Ensuring that the procedure for pre-trial detention decisions complies with all aspects of the right to a fair trial;
  • Not using extradition until cases are trial-ready;
  • Considering the proportionality of detention and the use of alternatives to pre-trial detention;
  • Ensuring detainees are given the best opportunity to prepare for trial, through safeguarding detention conditions.

What are we doing?

Fair Trials is passionate about preventing the unjustified and excessive use of pre-trial detention. The publication of our major policy report A Measure of Last Resort? The practice of pre-trial detention decision-making in the EU in May 2016 marked the completion of the first stage of our campaign. Funded by the EU Commission, we are:

  • Calling on the EU to put in place clear minimum standards limiting pre-trial detention to cases where it is properly justified, requiring the more effective use of alternatives and requiring proper, regular reviews of decisions to detain;
  • Highlighting our clients’ shocking first-hand accounts to provide vital evidence of the human impact of unjustified pre-trial detention;
  • Providing advice and support to people who are affected by pre-trial detention;
  • Organising legal training for defence practitioners across Europe, enabling them to understand international standards and ensure that they are respected in practice;
  • Gathering evidence of how pre-trial detention is being used in practice, through a collaborative project conducted between ourselves and partners from all over the EU; and
  • Publishing reports such as our comprehensive policy report on pre-trial detention in the EU, and our national reports in partnership with organisations and academics from their respective jurisdictions.


Ending unjustified pre-trial detention will require a variety of solutions, including properly trained defence lawyers, clearer legal rules that are easier to apply and enforce, and the development of fair and workable alternatives to detention. Crucially, these must be adapted to local needs and challenges.

Fair Trials has built an EU-wide network of fair trials defenders who are now working with us to analyse the problems in practice with pre-trial detention in their own countries and, crucially, to design targeted solutions. Informed by their experience, we have helped to secure new laws that will give defence lawyers access to the information they need to challenge detention.

We have also led the calls for EU-wide action to tackle unjustified pre-trial detention. In 2011, the European Commission carried out a consultation on detention in the EU, with widespread support for action from civil society and member states. The European Parliament has also called for reform of pre-trial detention in the EU. We are confident that our work gathering evidence, training local defence practitioners, and producing comprehensive reports will provide a strong foundation for the ongoing campaign to enact legislative changes to pre-trial detention decision-making in the EU.