Defending theHuman Rightto a Fair Trial
October 2, 2013
On Friday 4th October, Fair Trials International hosts the annual meeting of its Legal Experts Advisory Panel (LEAP). The meeting will bring together 70 lawyers representing 23 EU Member States to discuss the future of criminal justice within Europe.
It is now almost 4 years since the EU enacted its legislative programme (the Stockholm Programme) on justice and home affairs, promising – amongst other things – to raise standards of basic defence rights within the EU. The meeting will focus on the remaining work anticipated under this programme, including the potential for action on pre-trial detention (which the EU has recognised as a serious barrier to judicial cooperation) as well as the two remaining ‘Roadmap’ measures (on legal aid and vulnerable suspects).
The aim of these discussions will be to inform the shape of future legislation or guidelines. Members will discuss, for example, priorities and “red line” requirements for these initiatives; examples of real life cases which demonstrate priority issues; and patterns of good and bad practice in their respective countries. In the past, our EU-wide networks have been crucial to designing strong provisions on rights such as access to translation and interpretation – using their everyday casework experiences to ensure these laws will be effective in different Member States.
The meeting also presents an exciting opportunity to inform the future priorities of the EU, and to make the case for fair trial rights to be included within the EU’s next legislative programme (from 2015 onwards). LEAP members will discuss, for example, ways that future initiatives may tackle the ongoing problem of excessive pre-trial detention, which members have previously highlighted in countries including Lithuania, Greece, Spain, Poland and Hungary.
Many LEAP members have previously expressed concern that arguments for release pending trial have a slim chance of success, regardless of the characteristics and circumstances of the accused. Our work across the EU demonstrates that the reasons for this are complex, but there has been particular concern about political pressure on judges to be seen as “tough on crime”, with judges fearing scrutiny of high-profile cases. In countries such as Greece, LEAP members have reported that pre-trial detention is being used as a punitive measure, in order to ensure that justice is seen to be done against alleged perpetrators.
Although the EU has made significant progress over the past 4 years, it must continue to prioritise the protection of fair trial rights. Closer judicial cooperation throughout the EU – including the use of the European Arrest Warrant system – has strengthened the powers of police and prosecutors, making it vitally important that basic rights receive consistent protection in all 28 Member States. LEAP members have been vital in this work: they have drawn on their experiences from across Europe to highlight the need for improving standards of criminal justice, and provided a pan-European voice in support of defence rights.
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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A communiqué will be published following Friday’s meeting. You can also follow the discussion live on Twitter.
LEAP is supported by the Oak Foundation, the European Commission, the Clifford Chance Foundation and the Global Criminal Justice Fund of the Open Society Foundations.
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