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Digitalisation of Justice

Is this the end of lawyers in police stations?

Friday, 20 Nov 2020 10:00 - 11:30 CET


For people who have been arrested, the hours spent in police custody is a time of extreme vulnerability. What happens in the police station can determine the outcome of a criminal investigation and whether a person is released or held in detention pending the trial.

Legal assistance is key to protecting and helping people to understand their rights when facing the police.  Lawyers’ presence in police stations can also protect arrested people from police violence and coercion.

If you are arrested or interviewed by law enforcement authorities in the EU, you have the right to be assisted by a lawyer, prior to and during questioning. The implementation of this right is inconsistent, but it was delivered a massive blow by the Covid-19 pandemic when in person access to a lawyer was restricted in many EU countries.

As a result, legal assistance in police custody either didn’t happen or was primarily provided remotely, via telephone or video-link. It was often reduced to a pre-interview phone consultation and strictly limited in time.

By the end of 2020, the European Commission is expected to outline measures to increase digitalisation in justice systems across the EU. Before rushing into long-term legislative changes that will transform the functioning of our justice systems, it is crucial that we understand the impact of remote legal assistance on defence rights.

In our webinar, our panel of experts discussed the impact of remote legal assistance on defence rights in Europe during the pandemic. Can lawyers effectively assist their clients if they don’t meet in person? How does it affect suspects, in particular those who are vulnerable? Could remote access contribute to miscarriages of justice? And with the European Commission about to announce proposals for the digitalisation of justice systems, what is the long-term impact on criminal justice?

Our panel of legal experts included:

Nicolas Cohen, Lawyer, Jus Cogens
Nicolas is a criminal defence lawyer and partner at Brussels law firm, Jus Cogens. His work is dedicated to the promotion and respect of the fundamental human rights of suspects, accused and sentenced people. He regularly contributes to strategic litigation projects in Belgium and before international and European courts to improve the rights of individuals throughout the criminal justice process, as well as detention conditions. He is a member of and has co-presided (2013-2018) the Belgian branch of the International Prison Observatory. Since 2019, he has been an administrator of Prison Insider.

András Kádár, Attorney-at-law and Co-chair, Hungarian Helsinki Committee 
András is an attorney-at-law and Co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. Besides providing representation before domestic and international forums, including the European Court of Human Rights, he has been responsible for the HHC’s various research projects, training programs and advocacy activities. He was a member of the Independent Police Complaints Board, a civilian oversight body elected by and operating under the Hungarian Parliament, and is the Hungarian member of the European Network of Legal Experts in the Non-discrimination Field.

Barbel Heinkelmann, Legal Officer, European Commission
Barbel is Legal Officer at the European Commission Directorate General for Justice and Consumers. She is a lawyer and began her professional career as an assistant at Ludwig Maximilians Universität Munich, before joining the Public Prosecutors Office in Munich in 1997. In 2001, she started working for the services of the European Commission, firstly at the European Anti-Fraud Office OLAF and, since 2012, in Directorate General Justice. Currently, her main field of activity is in the area of procedural safeguards for suspects and accused persons. More concretely she is the responsible officer for the Directives on the right of access to a lawyer (Directive 2013/48/EU) and the Legal Aid Directive (Directive (EU) 2016/1919) for both of which she participated in the negotiation process. 

Laure Baudrihaye-Gérard, Europe Legal Director, Fair Trials
Laure leads Fair Trials’ engagement with the European regional courts (the Court of Justice of the EU and the European Court of Human Rights) and provides advice and support to practitioners across Europe, including Fair Trials’ Legal Experts Advisory Panel network, on the application of EU law in the criminal justice context. With over ten years of practice representing and advising clients on government investigations and in EU law-related disputes, she holds qualifying law degrees from universities in the UK and France and masters degrees in European law and criminology.
This event was possible thanks to the financial support of the Justice Programme of the European Union (2014-2020).


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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.