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"Justice in Europe is not quite up to scratch yet - you don't want to be arrested anywhere"

editor - September 29, 2015 - European Commission, European Parliament, justice in europe, Pre-trial detention, right to information, roadmap directives

euronetFair Trials’ Legal and Policy Officer Alex Tinsley took part in a debate last Tuesday on criminal defence rights at the European Parliament in Brussels. Speaking alongside other judicial experts and MEPs, Alex had the opportunity to discuss topics ranging from legal aid to the right to an interpreter, as well as offering his views on the standard of justice in Europe, during the discussions hosted by Euranet Plus. The debate, titled ‘Poor Man’s Justice’: The Right to Legal Defence in Europe, sought to establish how far EU citizens really enjoy justice and the right to a fair trial within the EU.
During the 40 minute debate, which was streamed live online (and is available to watch here), Alex reflected on the serious need for fair and equal justice across Europe for the EU to function effectively:
‘Co-operation between the criminal justice organisations of member states is based on the idea that there is a standard right to a fair trial which is protected to the same level everywhere in the EU.’
However, as well as highlighting the work that is already being done to protect defence rights – in particular, the introduction of new EU Directives on fair trial rights in criminal proceedings – Alex emphasised that there was a still a great deal to be done. ‘Lack of access to interpreters, lack of access to lawyers to provide advice in police stations, inappropriate information given about procedural rights, so that people don’t understand their situation… These aren’t just abstract things. The simple answer is that justice in Europe is not quite up to scratch yet, and you don’t want to be arrested anywhere.’
Alex offered a list of developments he would like to see. ‘Three things need to happen. The member states need to implement the existing laws with the oversight of the EU; the EU needs to finish the job of adopting the standards on legal aid, presumption of innocence and safeguards for children; and the EU needs to act on pre-trial detention, and start thinking about measures on audio-visual recording and remedies. If those things can happen, there will be a stronger basis for co-operation between member states.’
A large part of the debate was spent discussing the issue of pre-trial detention – where globally up to 3 million people are currently being held without having been found guilty. Alex stressed the significance of pre-trial detention in Europe, connecting it to the fundamental right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and calling it ‘the core, fundamental problem which undermines co-operation between member states. In the EU, we have thousands of people detained whilst they’re still presumed innocent, when it just isn’t necessary or appropriate to do so. There are a lot of problems in practice, and this is why the European Union has taken the initiative to continue its work on criminal justice by proposing a directive to address the presumption of innocence, building on existing measures.’
Overall, Alex expressed cautious optimism about the general direction of justice in Europe. Commenting that reforms were initially prompted by a ‘clear consensus that action was needed’, he reiterated the importance of these changes, whilst admitting that the sluggish pace at which member states were adapting to the directives was the biggest hurdle to success: ‘It’s absolutely a priority that this implementation process happens, because this is only the very first step – it’s only once this happens that the EU can continue on with the job of strengthening mutual trust.’
‘The world looks to Europe in some ways for leadership with regard to justice, and Europe now has a chance to set a gold standard. So it’s important from a global perspective that the job of implementing the directives is done properly.’

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