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NEWS

LEAP-driven panel denounces use of coercion to undermine fairness of trials in Eurasia

admin - September 18, 2018 - Torture, plea-bargaining

 

At the 2018 human rights meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, HDIM), Fair Trials and LEAP held a panel on how different forms of coercion, including torture and trial waiver systems, are undermining the fairness of trials across the world.

The event featured contributions from members of Fair Trials’ network of fair trial defenders, the Legal Experts Advisory Panel (LEAP), including Jordan Daci (Daci & Associates), Barbara Grabowska-Moroz (Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, HFHR), and David Vig (Hungarian Helsinki Committee, HHC), who focussed on the domestic trial waiver systems in Albania, Poland and Hungary respectively.

Further interventions were delivered by Natalia Taubina (Public Verdict Foundation) on the use of torture both during and before the investigation phase in Russia, and Roemer Lemaitre (World Organisation Against Torture) on the use of torture and coercion to gain confessions in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Russia.

Fair Trials’ CEO Jago Russell said: “Coercion is fuelling a vision of criminal justice that is only focussed on 'efficiency', creating a conveyor belt of criminal justice that does not respect human rights”. According to Fair Trials’ CEO, coercion can take numerous forms, beyond torture itself, and can include the abuse of plea-bargaining and pre-trial detention.

In Albania, plea-bargaining was introduced in 2017 and is being implemented in the absence of any effective constitutional review mechanism, since the Constitutional Court is only working with 2 judges instead of 9. As such, the only available remedy in case of complaints remains the European Court of Human Rights.

Jordan Daci, criminal defence lawyer in Albania, said: “The main drive behind the justice reforms in the Balkans, is speed and money, not justice”

In Poland, plea-deals are commonly known as 335 motions, after the article in the Code of Criminal Procedure that regulates plea-bargaining. For 2017, official data shows that 30% of criminal cases are dealt with through 335 motions but HFHR research finds this number to be up to 60%. Plea-deals in Poland come with several shortcomings for the defendant. For instance, the Letter of Rights provided in motion 335 cases is reported to be incomprehensible. In addition, defendants from poorer backgrounds are usually given no ex officio lawyer.

In Hungary, plea-bargaining has just been introduced through a wider reform of the country’s Code of Criminal Procedure in July. Although it is difficult to gauge the newly introduced trial waiver mechanism, the text of the law appears to put significant emphasis on the speed and efficiency of the trials, as opposed to defence rights. For instance, plea bargains would not be recorded, therefore increasing the chance of coercive behaviour from the prosecution, before the agreement is presented for approval to the judge.

In addition, given the general poor quality of the legal aid system, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee fears that plea-bargaining will only put increased pressure on poor defendants to accept whatever deal they are offered by the prosecution, whereas wealthier defendants will be able to afford well-prepared lawyers, who will make sure to reach the best plea-deal for their client.

Over the last two years, Fair Trials has published research on both trial waiver systems and torture, respectively in 2017 report “The Disappearing Trial”, which documents the global spread of trial waiver systems and highlights the risks these pose to procedural rights, and in 2018 report “Tainted by Torture”, which analyses existing legislation to exclude evidence obtained through torture in countries worldwide.

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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