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NEWS

Lithuania introduces PTD reforms recommended by Fair Trials and HRMI

editor - July 22, 2015

On 25thJune 2015, the Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament) amended provisions of the Criminal Code to regulate the use of pre-trial detention. The amendments to the Criminal Code were proposed by the Ministry of Justice, with the Lithuanian human rights NGO Human Rights Monitoring Institute (HRMI) and Fair Trials actively participating in the drafting process. The recommendations of both organisations were included in the final draft. HRMI and Fair Trials are also working together closely on a pre-trial detention research project, in which 10 human rights and prison rights organisations across the EU are analysing the judicial decision-making processes in order to inform policymakers of good and bad practice in this field.

Despite the fact that pre-trial detention should be the strictest of all restrictive measures, it is exceptionally common in Lithuania: HRMI report that up to 2,000 people each year of a total population of approximately 2.94 million are detained and imprisoned prior to being sentenced, with pre-trial detention being used 10 times more than bail and almost 50 times more than house arrest; statistics indicate that Lithuanian courts allow 95% of all applications by prosecutors for its use or extension. This places Lithuania at the forefront of Europe in real terms in its commonplace use of pre-trial detention.

The amendments to the Criminal Code relating to the use of pre-trial detention include five significant provisions:

  1. When considering a prosecutor‘s application for the use or extension of pre-trial detention, judges may now not only order or reject pre-trial detention, but also select a more suitable alternative measure at their discretion. Previously judges could only order the measure requested by the prosecutor.
  2. When ordering pre-trial detention, judges are now under an explicit duty to indicate the factual circumstances and arguments that led them to believe that less strict restrictive alternative measures were not appropriate in that case – currently, this is usually limited to formal statements that less strict measures were inappropriate. This change is in compliance with ECtHR case law.
  3. The longest permissible period for pre-trial detention during pre-trial investigation for minor or semi-serious offences has been reduced from 18 to 9 months, while the maximum pre-trial detention for minors has been reduced from 12 to 6 months.
  4. Appeals from a court ruling ordering or refusing to order pre-trial detention will no longer be examined by a single judge of a higher court, but instead by a panel of three judges.
  5. When requesting an order of pre-trial detention, the prosecution must allow defence counsel in all cases to access the case file materials which the application is based on. This requirement also applies when applying to the court for the use of other restrictive measures, such as intensive surveillance, house arrest and the imposition of a condition to live separately from a victim.

The new-found attention to the problems of pre-trial detention has achieved results – 2014 saw the least people detained in Lithuania for a decade. It is hoped that these amendments to the Criminal Code will further ensure the effective guarantee of the right to a fair trial in Lithuania.

Nevertheless, HRMI stress that reform should not merely be limited to legal amendments: it is also necessary to provide training for law enforcement officials explaining the purpose of and appropriate grounds for pre-trial detention, or the other restrictive measures, while raising awareness of international human rights standards in this area in order to secure wholesale reform.

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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