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Template to request facilities to ensure confidential lawyer-client communication

FairTrialsAdmin - May 28, 2020 - COVID-19 Updates, Guides, Access to a lawyer, Remote Justice

Read the story of Marie, unable to speak confidentially with her lawyer during the COVID-19 crisis, and learn how EU law can help her! Marie's story is fictional but is inspired by similar events* that have happened across Europe during the pandemic. ​

Marie has been in pre-trial detention for 3 months. She was informed that her first hearing would take place via videoconference from the detention centre. Ahead of the hearing, she was given permission to contact her lawyer via telephone to prepare her defence. The prison telephones were located in the prison corridor, and anyone passing by could overhear her conversation. Moreover, she did not receive any guarantees that the phone line would be secured. She hung up in the middle of the phone conversation as she felt a guard was listening. On the day of the hearing, the videoconference system did not allow her to speak privately with her lawyer before the hearing started. 

Under EU law, Member States must respect the confidentiality of counsel-client communication.  Necessary arrangements must be taken to ensure that suspects or accused persons have the right to meet in private and communicate with their lawyer counsel in a confidential setting, including prior to questioning by the police or the investigative judge.  

Have you recently experienced a similar challenge? Are you a criminal lawyer whose client has faced the same issues?  

Fair Trials has produced a template based on relevant EU standards to request facilities to ensure confidential lawyer-client communication.  

Download the template here or view the pdf version in your browser here.

This template is part of a toolkit which aims to equip lawyers with arguments to address the threat to the right to a lawyer as a result of measures adopted in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Find out more here.

 

* Examples include: 

  • Belgium: Detainees have been authorised to contact their lawyer via telephone but as the meeting rooms in prisons are cramped, there is no guarantee that the phone lines will be secure and only a few prisons have telephones in a cell or in a sufficiently discrete location. 

  • Ireland: A survey undertaken by Shalom Binchy Solicitors highlighted concerns regarding suspects' ability to consult confidentially with their solicitor before the police interview as often phones are located in the custody area. 

  • In several countries, including the NetherlandsRomaniaSpain and the United Kingdom: the video platforms used by courts for remote hearings do not allow lawyers to speak with their client confidentially after the hearing has started, and in some cases not even before. 

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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