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NEWS

New report shows violations of basic defence rights

editor - October 24, 2013

lithuaniaLawyers and NGOs from 5 more EU Member States have highlighted concerns about the protection of basic defence rights. They have also called on the EU and individual Member States to ensure that the EU’s new laws on procedural rights are fully implemented in order to prevent the routine violation of suspects’ rights.

At a meeting convened by Fair Trials International in Vilnius, expert lawyers and NGOs from Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland met to discuss how the new EU Directives on defence rights - the right to interpretation and translation, the right to information within criminal proceedings, and the right of access to a lawyer – could help address fair trial concerns for defendants in their own country. NGOs participating were: the Human Rights Monitoring Institute (Lithuania), the Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, and the Czech Helsinki Committee.

Following a similar meeting in Hungary earlier this year, lawyers were asked to discuss whether national laws and practices complied with the Directives and what steps would need to be taken to ensure these laws were implemented. Lawyers discussed, in particular, whether there were opportunities to use the Directives to address longstanding barriers to justice – such as the partiality of police interpreters – and the potential for training lawyers to tackle these.

Other recurring concerns expressed by the participants included the substandard quality of interpretation and the lack of certification requirements for interpreters; problems with access to the case file (in Estonia, this is often withheld altogether, meaning defendants are never given the chance to review the evidence against them before facing trial); and suspects being ill-informed by police officers about the potential consequences of waiving their right to a lawyer (meaning that suspects might not be able to obtain legal advice even if they would subsequently benefit from it).

Although the first of the Directives - on the right to translation and interpretation - must be implemented this month, participants remained concerned that judges and lawyers are still unaware of the law – meaning that suspects might still be left facing proceedings in a language they cannot understand.

Fair Trials will continue to work with lawyers and NGOs across Europe to make sure the laws are being used as effectively as possible and that Member States do not fail to implement the new standards. Beginning on 31st October, Fair Trials will look to train over 100 lawyers on how to use these laws, with courses taking place in Budapest, Warsaw, Strasbourg, and Cambridge. For more information on these training programmes and on how to register, click here.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on 020 7822 2370 or 07950 849 851.

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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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