Defending theHuman Rightto a Fair Trial
December 11, 2013
As yet another European Court of Human Rights judgment against Hungary for violations of the right to liberty is published, Eszter Kirs from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) reports on continued efforts to improve pre-trial justice in Hungary.
The excessive use of pre-trial detention continues to be one of the most serious problems of the Hungarian criminal justice system. Between 2009 and 2012, almost 30% of detained persons were held in pre-trial detention.
Although Hungarian law provides that pre-trial detention should only be imposed for the shortest possible period, and any person held in pre-trial detention shall be released as soon as the specific reasons for this coercive measure cease to exist, automatic extension of pre-trial detention remains the general practice.
Between 2009 and 2012, the success rate of prosecutorial motions for ordering pre-trial detention has exceeded 91% which suggests that specific circumstances are not sufficiently considered when courts take decisions on extending pre-trial detention.
An additional serious problem in criminal legal practice is created by the fact that the right of defence to access the case file during the investigative phase is limited. In a number of cases (for example, A.B., Baksza, X.Y. v. Hungary) – where the Co-Chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee represented the applicants – the European Court of Human Rights came to the conclusion that Hungary had violated Article 5(4) of the European Convention on Human Rights for (among others) the above reason.
An obvious consequence is the excessive length of pre-trial detention. It is not uncommon for it to exceed the term of one year. One of the root causes is the excessive length of criminal legal proceedings. A recent case is telling: two people accused of attempted murder escaped from house arrest after reaching the legal limit of 4 years in pre-trial detention.
As a response, the governing party declared its intention to file a proposal amending the Code of Criminal Procedure to the Parliament to remove the upper limit of the term of pre-trial detention in cases of suspects facing more than 15 years imprisonment. The HHC turned to the Members of the Parliament before the adoption of the bill by mail, calling on them to act according to the relevant provisions of the provisions of the new constitution, called the Fundamental Law, and international standards, in vain.
On 11 November 2013, the Parliament adopted the Bill on the amendment, whereby, the four-year time limit on duration of pre-trial detention for those accused of crimes punishable by a prison term of 15 years or by life-long imprisonment was abolished. The amendment raises serious concerns in light of the principle of presumption of innocence and the relevant case-law of the ECtHR.
The governing party claimed that the special situation given by the lengthy criminal proceedings and the fact that the delivery of judgments may take even more than three years, demands special solutions in order to reassure wider society in relation to their safety.
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee drew attention to the fact that the state should ensure that all accused are tried within a reasonable time. Four years should be sufficient time for this under any circumstances. The accused cannot be punished for the failure of the state and the courts to provide expeditious proceedings. Furthermore, the unlimited term of pre-trial detention sends the message to the already unacceptably slow authorities that they do not need to hurry.
This is a guest post written by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee . 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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