EU Must Fix Flawed Criminal Justice Systems

BRUSSELS—The Open Society Justice Initiative is calling upon the European Council of Ministers and Parliament to develop a strong EU Directive to guarantee the right to early access to legal representation for all people accused or suspected of crimes.

Zaza Namoradze, director of the Open Society Justice Initiative’s Budapest office, said that current discussions aimed at standardizing procedural safeguards across the EU must ensure that they uphold the European Convention on Human Rights and strengthen them in order to guarantee that all people could effectively exercise their rights to criminal defence and a fair trial, in line with commitments made by member states in Stockholm in 2009.

Namoradze said: “Some EU member states are regrettably arguing against setting strong minimum standards for the proper treatment of people who are questioned by the police in relation to crimes. Now is the time for countries to protect their citizens by ensuring that everybody has access to the fundamental rights of fair trial.”

Namoradze made the comments during the launch of Effective Criminal Defence in Eastern Europe, a new report which explores and compares access to effective defence in criminal proceedings in Bulgaria, Georgia, Lithuania, Moldova and Ukraine. The report finds that many people suspected or accused of crimes in are unaware of their rights and routinely prevented from mounting an effective defense. Similar results were produced by an earlier 2010 study that covered nine European countries

 “The publication of this book is timely and hugely significant to a wider debate we are seeing right now across Europe about the rights of the defence” said Namoradze.

The two studies together have identified the right to legal representation and legal aid as a recurring weak point in many criminal justice systems in Europe, and make detailed suggestions for setting overall EU standards on these issues. Many systems leave detainees without protection early in the process, when they are most vulnerable to pressure and intimidation by police.

The new study was based on a research project conducted under the framework of the Legal Aid Reformers Network (LARN) with financial support from the Human Rights and Governance Grants Program of the Open Society Foundations and implemented by the Soros Foundation–Moldova, in cooperation with Open Society Institute–Sofia, Open Society Georgia Foundation, International Renaissance Foundation–Ukraine, and the Open Society Justice Initiative

The previous book, Effective Criminal Defence in Europe (Intersentia, 2010), covers Belgium, England and Wales, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Turkey. The book provides a full account of the project’s findings, and an executive summary is available for download.