Legal Tools: European Standards on Criminal Defense Rights

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This document is part of the Open Society Justice Initiative’s Arrest Rights Toolkit, a resource for criminal lawyers, prosecutors, judges, and police—all those who play a role in ensuring that the rights of people accused of crimes are respected.  

Each year millions of people in Europe are arrested or detained by the police or other law enforcement agents. There is wide variation across European countries in terms of recognition and implementation of the rights essential to a person’s ability to defend his or herself. Many countries fail to provide the essential components of effective criminal defense, leaving suspects and accused persons in a vulnerable position: without legal assistance, without knowledge of the case against them, and without the ability to apply for pretrial release. This can have catastrophic impacts on a person’s life.

This digest covers all of the core procedural rights that underpin access to justice and a fair trial. It extracts the relevant parts of the European Convention of Human Rights, and summarizes all key case law from the European Court of Human Rights on the following issues:

  • the right to information about rights and charges, and access to evidence;
  • the right to self-representation or legal assistance from the earliest stages of the investigation, the right to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defence, and the waiver of the rights to legal assistance;
  • the right to legal aid;
  • the right to be presumed innocent and the right to silence;
  • the right to bail, to be released from custody pending trial;
  • the right to participate in your trial, to call witnesses, to be given reasoned decisions, and to appeal; and
  • the right to free interpretation and translation of documents.

If you have any questions or feedback about the digest or would like to keep the Justice Initiative informed about reforms in your country, please contact Marion Isobel at marion.isobel@opensocietyfoundations.org.