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New research by Fair Trials and DLA Piper finds poor understanding of rights by arrested people in France

editor - May 19, 2017 - right to information, Letters of Rights

Picture the scene: a person is arrested, and then the police read them their rights. It's happened in so many films and TV shows as to become a bit of a cliche. But what does the law actually say about the notification of rights? In the European Union, the EU Directive on the Right to Information means that police must provide the arrested person with a written letter of rights. However, their use and content vary widely depending on the member state.

In France, for instance, there are no less than 12 different templates that could be handed to an arrested person depending on the charges and on the age of the suspect. The language of the letters is complex and technical, which often prevents the arrested person from fully understanding and exercising their rights. Poor accessibility is an issue for both suspects and criminal proceedings as a whole, as the ineffective exercise of procedural rights can lead to delays and re-trials in court.

Together with four partner organisations (Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Human Rights Monitoring Institute, and Rights International Spain), Fair Trials have mapped the law and practice governing letters of rights in Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Lithuania, and Spain to determine whether the domestic law complies with the EU Directive and whether these documents are actually accessible to the arrested person. The findings were not good: in all of the surveyed countries, these notifications of rights were found to be too legalistic and vague at the same time.

IPicn France, we have carried out extensive legal research with the invaluable pro-bono support of international law firm DLA Piper. On 17th May, their Paris offices hosted the launch of the French national report, where our staff were able to present the main findings of the research. The current letters of rights were found to be both too complex and too short for the arrested person to understand their rights.

Firstly, the inclusion of the accusations in the letter of rights leads the arrested person to focus on challenging the charges rather than on their rights.

Secondly, little information is given as to :

  1. the scope and implications of exercising the right to silence and the right to access a lawyer;
  2. the maximum length of the police custody and of its extensions;
  3. how to challenge the legality of the arrest, to obtain a review of the detention decision and to ask for release;
  4. the possibility to obtain free legal aid.

Thirdly, legal jargon and complex sentences add an extra layer of confusion for a person who is not a legal expert and is moreover put under enormous stress whilst in custody.

Over the launch event, Fair Trials presented an alternative template for a more accessible letter of rights in France. The new document was the fruit of a successful cooperation between our legal experts and an external consultant on legal plain language, Jenny Gracie. The core principle of plain language is to communicate in a way that your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. Starting from this assumption, our joint work has resulted in a first suggestion for a more understandable document that we will be happy to discuss with the French Ministry of Justice.

Similar work had been carried out by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee in 2016 in Hungary, where an alternative plain-language letter of rights proved to be 24% more accessible to laypeople than the existing one.

  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. For regular updates follow Fair Trials on Twitter and Facebook or sign up to our newsletter at the bottom of the page. FB iconClick to share this story on Facebook


If you are a journalist interested in this story, please call the media team on +44 (0) 7749 785 932 or email [email protected]

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