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NEWS

Fair Trials submit opinion to Estonian Supreme Court on "Right to Information"

editor - October 16, 2015 - right to information, LEAP

Fair Trials, in coordination with LEAP (Legal Experts Advisory Panel), have submitted an opinion to the Estonian Supreme Court concerning the right to information in criminal proceedings. In it, Fair Trials emphasise that access to essential information during the pre-trial stage is a right legally guaranteed under Article 7 of Directive 2012/13/EU.

Within the third-party opinion, the Supreme Court has been informed that Estonian practice allowing prosecutors to restrict suspects’ access to this information is inconsistent with the common understanding of European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case law, as well as of the Directive itself.

LEAP's contribution towards the submission was key, in line with its implementation strategy of February 2015.  The opinion included three statements prepared by LEAP members (from Poland, Spain and Hungary - included in Annexes below) describing recent amendments to their laws, and drew upon the LEAP Access to the Case File report.

The Right to Information Directive was one of a number of measures adopted by the EU to ensure that all EU Member States apply the same standards in all criminal proceedings and guarantee the rights provided by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Directive, part of the EU’s ‘Roadmap Rights’ to provide better defence protection for individuals across Europe, was adopted in May 2012 and implemented two years later, in June 2014. At its core, the Directive aims to ensure that anyone arrested in the EU will be supplied with key information about basic legal rights, charges against them (in a language they understand) and information they require to effectively prepare for trial.

While Article 7(4) of the Directive permits a suspect’s right of access to information during the pre-trial stage to be limited in certain circumstances, such limitation must be justified by a strict necessity to safeguard the public interest or to protect the efficiency of the investigation. However, under the terms of Article 7, limitations do not apply in any circumstances to those who are challenging the lawfulness of their arrest or detention, as attorney Vincent Tochkov pointed out in our guest post.  Article 7(1) states explicitly that all EU Members have an obligation to ensure that all relevant documents essential to challenging detention must be provided to suspects and their lawyers. Although the Directive does not offer a precise definition of what documents can be considered ‘essential’ to a decision at the pre-trial stage, the ECtHR has stated through its case law that the definition includes all documents relied on by a prosecutor seeking detention, or by a court ordering it.

Fair Trials regularly assists national courts in criminal cases involving EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECtHR), one example is A.T. v. Luxembourg, where judgment was given following our submission of a third-party intervention in the case.

In submitting this opinion, Fair Trials hopes that the Estonian Supreme Court will adopt an approach consistent with other EU Member States that provides accused suspects with all of the information and evidence relevant to challenging their detention or arrest. This is an important step towards ensuring that the right to information is effectively guaranteed across the EU, thereby strengthening the right of all citizens to a fair trial.

You can read the full recommendation made by Fair Trials to the Supreme Court of Estonia here.

You can also access Annex I, Annex II, Annex III and Annex IV which detail how legislation in specific EU states has been developed to ensure implementation of the Directive.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on 020 7822 2370 or 07950 849 851. For regular updates follow Fair Trials on Twitter or sign up to our monthly bulletin at the bottom of the page.

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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