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Trial Waiver Systems in Europe

Punishment without a trial

Tuesday, 26 Oct 2021 09:45 - 12:45 CEST



Trials are key to ensuring that a criminal conviction is fair. In reality, many people in Europe are being convicted of crimes without a trial taking place. When States have too many cases to deal with, often as a result of the ever-increasing reach of criminal law, they resort to trial waiver systems to process cases quickly, regardless of whether people are innocent or guilty. 

Trial waiver systems encourage people to give up their right to a full trial in exchange for a concession from the State. This practice has detrimental effects on the people involved. Innocent people can be coerced into thinking that pleading guilty is their only option, or they may fear the consequences or costs of a full trial. There is also evidence that people who are vulnerable, people who are on low incomes, and migrants are disproportionately affected by waiving their right to a trial, reinforcing existing social inequalities in our justice systems. 

Criminal justice systems should prioritise fairness over ensuring efficiency. In 2017, we documented the spread of trial waiver systems across the globe. Europe is no exception to this trend, as countries face increasing workloads and budget cuts, trial waiver systems are increasingly used as a response to overburdened systems. But this means that the investigation, prosecution, and sentencing are increasingly taking place outside of meaningful judicial oversight. 

Strong guarantees must be put in place to protect people and their fundamental rights, as well as the rule of law, by ensuring that authorities are subject to oversight. The Trial Waiver Systems in Europe (TWSE) project examined the impact of trial waiver systems in Europe on the right to a fair trial. It brought together partners in Albania (Respublica), Cyprus (KISA), Hungary (Hungarian Helsinki Committee), Italy (Antigone) and Slovenia (Mirovni Institute) and was led by Fair Trials. During the online event, we will discuss the project's findings and recommendations. 

The event will be held online via zoom on 26 September.

Who can attend? 

The event is open to all and aims to raise awareness about the use of trial waiver systems among practitioners and policymakers at domestic and EU levels, as well as organisations representing the people most impacted by these systems. We welcome participation from defence lawyers, judges, police, prosecutors, civil society organisations, national and EU policymakers.


Agenda (CEST)  

9:45 – 09:55 Welcome and introduction  

9.55- 10.00 Launch of Fair Trials’ film on trial waivers 

10.00 – 11.15 Panel Discussion and Q&A – Contextual overview, regional standards and systemic risks associated with trial waiver systems  

Panellists will discuss how our criminal justice systems have arrived at the point where trials have become something of a luxury and whether trial waiver systems have met the cost-efficiency objectives they were set up for. They will address the lack of regional standards and safeguards specifically adapted to situations where the right to a fair trial applies in non-trial contexts. Panellists will also explore the disproportionate impact of these systems on migrants, low-income and vulnerable people and discuss whether a system can be designed that ensures consent to a trial waiver is voluntary. 

Panellists: Moderated by Emmanuelle Debouverie, Senior Legal and Policy Officer at Fair Trials  

  • Jacqueline Hodgson, Professor of Law, Warwick Law School (UK)
  • Rebecca Helm, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Exeter (UK) 
  • Alejandro Gamez Selma, Criminal Defence Lawyer (Spain) and LEAP member

11.15 – 11.30 Break  

11.30 – 12.30 Presentation of project findings  

Fair Trials and TWSE partners from Albania, Slovenia, Cyprus, Hungary and Italy will present the research findings. Panellists will discuss the common threats and challenges posed by trial waiver systems on the procedural rights protected under EU law, sharing best practices and recommendations to minimise these risks.  


  • Nathalie Vandevelde, Assistant Legal and Policy Officer, Fair Trials
  • Nóra Novoszádek, Senior Legal Officer, Hungarian Helsinki Committee (Hungary)
  • Dorian Matija, Executive Director of Res Publica (Albania)
  • Federica Brioschi, Researcher, Antigone (Italy)
  • Nicoletta Charalambidou, Advocate and KISA member (Cyprus)
  • Katarina Vučko, Mirovni Institute (Slovenia)

12.30 – 12.45 Concluding remarks – ways forward  



This event is possible thanks to the financial support of the Justice Programme of the European Union (2014-2020).

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