Defending theHuman Rightto a Fair Trial
February 6, 2014
The EU Commission has criticised the failure of many Member States to comply with three EU laws, including the European Supervision Order, which are intended to allow more people to await trial or serve their sentence (custodial or non-custodial) in their country of origin or habitual residence. Fair Trials’ casework regularly highlights the challenges faced by non-nationals when seeking to be transferred or to remain in their home country during or following the conclusion of criminal proceedings. A recent example is the case of a permanent resident of Finland who remains subject to a European Arrest Warrant, and the resulting travel restrictions, due to the refusal of the Polish authorities to cooperate with Finland, as required by the EU law on prisoner transfers, to allow him to serve his one-year prison sentence in Finland. We are pleased that the Commission has not only highlighted the importance of these laws for non-national defendants but also emphasised its commitment to using its enforcement powers, which will come into effect in December 2014, against recalcitrant Member States.
Fair Trials has long been concerned that these laws – which depend upon cooperation between Member States – would not be sufficient to address the excessive and arbitrary use of pre-trial detention across the EU, despite the fact that the Commission considers them to be capable of doing so. While Member States have time and again proved their willingness to cooperate on measures such as the European Arrest Warrant which make life easier for police and prosecutors to fight crime, they are sadly hesitant to work together in the interests of suspects and defendants. Our recent work with legal experts in Spain, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Lithuania and France showed that the majority of judges, prosecutors and lawyers are not even aware that mechanisms such as the European Supervision Order exist. Recent developments, such as Hungary’s removal of the upper limit on pre-trial detention for serious crimes, demonstrate that the situation is getting worse in many Member States and make the arguments for EU-wide minimum standards on pre-trial detention, outlined in a major Fair Trials report, increasingly compelling.
The EU has made significant progress over the past five years, with the adoption of three EU directives on fair trial rights and a resolution of the European Parliament calling for legislative action on pre-trial detention, but there is clearly more work to be done. We hope that discussions during 2014 on the Strategic Guidelines for the EU’s future work on Justice and Home Affairs will provide an opportunity for Brussels to take a firm stand on this issue and remind Member States that they cannot enjoy the benefits of cooperation without safeguarding the presumption of liberty; a cornerstone of the right to a fair trial.
If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on 020 7822 2370 or 07950 849 851.
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Fair Trials Europe is a registered public foundation in Belgium (No. 552688677).
Fair Trials Europe was founded by Fair Trials International
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