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NEWS

New EU victims’ policy to bring more rights behind bars

FairTrialsAdmin - June 25, 2020

Deprivation of liberty is amongst the harshest of measures that the state can take against a person and should only be imposed in limited circumstances as a measure of last resort. For years, “tough on crime” politics has meant prison is seen as the response to an ever increasing range of social issues. Prison populations in Europe have ballooned, causing overcrowding and a dramatic deterioration in prison conditions. The COVID-19 crisis brought to the fore the vulnerability of people in detention to infectious disease.

It is time to recognise that putting a person in detention places them in a violent setting. Detained people are isolated, stigmatised, and lack access to information and to means of communication with the outside world. Detention is not transparent – there is a lack of accountability and oversight. Procedural safeguards of people held in detention are not guaranteed. Places of detention can and often do operate as a kind of legal black hole.

The European Commission has finally recognised the vulnerability of detainees and officially included detainees in its new Strategy on victims' rights (2020-2025) published on the 24th of June, recognising their isolation and stigmatisation, and their inability to access justice. Alongside children, people with disabilities, the elderly, or victims of human trafficking, people in detention must benefit from specific scrutiny and attention from the EU and Member States. This approach represents a fundamental paradigm shift, from a criminal justice system that artificially distinguishes between and opposes victims and perpetrators. It can help change how detainees, one of the groups that people and politicians care the least about, are perceived in our societies altogether.

Over the last two years, Fair Trials has worked with  REDRESS (The Netherlands), Centre for Peace Studies (Croatia), Antigone (Italy), Hungarian Helsinki Committee (Hungary) and Civil Rights Defenders (Sweden). to document the barriers to accessing justice for people who have suffered physical violence in pre-trial detention and in immigration facilities. The findings and recommendations were presented last November to the European Parliament.

 

We urged EU institutions and Member States to shift their approach to crime in detention and to recognise detainees as particularly vulnerable victims. We welcome the new EU Commission’s strategy on victims’ rights as a first step in the right direction. The new strategy incorporates several of our recommendations, including to produce guidance on the implementation of the EU law with respect to victims in detention and in particular:

 

  • Clarify that detainees who are victims of violence are vulnerable, within the meaning of EU law;
  • Require that “competent authorities” include detention staff, to address the fact that these are the only authorities that most detainees are able to access; and
  • Outline minimum requirements for national protocols setting out the responsibilities of Detention Staff and detention administrations in securing the rights of detained victims of violent crime, including: the timely provision of accessible information on rights; preserving and sharing evidence of alleged crimes; reporting of possible offences to law enforcement; facilitating detainees’ communication with law enforcement, lawyers, medics and Victim Support Services; and the obligation to protect against secondary victimisation.

 

Read the Strategy on victims' rights (2020-2025)

Read Fair Trials’ report on access to justice for victims of violent crime suffered in pre-trial or immigration detention.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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