Defending theHuman Rightto a Fair Trial
September 19, 2013
Our recent communiqué on pre-trial detention in Lithuania shows how judicial systems can develop a culture of excessive detention. Karolis Liutkevičius, a lawyer from the Lithuanian NGO Human Rights Monitoring Institute, shares his experiences of pre-trial detention:
Pre-trial detention, from the human rights perspective, is the most restrictive measure that can be employed in the course of criminal proceedings. It imposes severe restrictions on a person’s liberty, equivalent to those of imprisonment, and carries with it a number of negative social consequences ranging from job loss to social stigma. Thus, unsurprisingly pre-trial detention is regarded as the measure of last resort under Lithuanian law.
Yet despite its status as ultima ratio pre-trial detention remains severely overused by Lithuanian courts in comparison to its closest alternatives – house arrest and bail. Over the period of last five years (2008-2012) pre-trial detention was ordered more than ten times as much as its alternatives taken together: 1821 times per year on average, while house arrest and bail were ordered 56 and 117 times, respectively.
What is even more concerning is the eagerness with which courts order pre-trial detention. Statistical data indicates that there is around a 95 per cent chance that pre-trial detention will be ordered if the prosecution requests it. The chances for a successful appeal once detention is ordered are slim, averaging at around 8 per cent.
Statements by defence counsels and suspects placed in pre-trial detention offer some insight into why this measure is such oft used. Criminal defence lawyers have maintained for quite some time that pre-trial detention is used as means to coerce suspects into making confessions and giving evidence.
This is echoed by the complaints of detainees who often claim that they are given a choice by the investigating officers: either they confess or the prosecution will demand for pre-trial detention. A request that will most likely be granted, should one consider the success rates.
A noteworthy example of this is the case of a Lithuanian lobbyist Andrius Romanovskis, indicted on corruption charges. Mr Romanovskis claimed to have been presented with a choice of either giving evidence against another suspect in the case or being placed in pre-trial detention shortly after arrest. Mr Romanovskis refused to testify. He was detained for several weeks.
However, things are not completely bleak. High profile cases such as Mr Romanovskis’s and detention of Mindaugas Balčiūnas, secretary general of Lithuanian Basketball Federation, has sparked a wide public debate over the abuse of pre-trial detention. Even the Prosecutor General admitted that pre-trial detention is overused.
There is currently a bill in the Parliament aiming to reform the use of pre-trial detention. If passed, it would shorten the maximum allowed periods of detention, as well as require a better justification for each case of pre-trial detention.
However, the law already clearly states that pre-trial detention is an exceptional measure only to be used as last resort. Thus, the most important reform at the moment, which remains to be had, is that of the minds of legal professionals.
This is a guest post written by the Human Rights Monitoring Institute. If you are a lawyer or expert interested in writing on the right to a fair trial please contact Fair Trials International.
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