Thursday

6th Aug 2020

Dire pre-trial prison conditions in some EU states

  • Polish judge: "To be honest, I have probably never faced a situation where whatever a defence lawyer had to say persuaded me not to apply pre-trial detention" (Photo: Jumilla)

Cases of people held behind bars for years before trial in the EU continue to surface despite years of attempts at reform, London-based Fair Trials International says in a report.

Judges in EU countries routinely detain place people in pre-trial detention even though it is supposed to be used only in exceptional circumstances, claims the study, published on Thursday (26 May).

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Fair Trials International details the abuse and case history of people, some innocent, whose lives have been ruined.

A judge in Poland told the researchers he had never been persuaded by a defence lawyer not to use pre-trial detention.

Seven months in isolation

The effects on people can be dramatic.

One person in Italy spent seven months in solitary confinement out of a total 11 months in jail on a murder charge before the trial had even started. He was later acquitted.

"I always had the hope and expectation that the decision was going to change and that I would be released," the victim told researchers.

"While you’re there though, it’s two or three times more difficult when you know that you’ve done nothing."

In Poland, another was locked up for more than three years and released on bail last September over drug charges. His released was triggered in part by a public outcry.

In Romania, a woman spent a year and nine months in pre-trial detention. Charged with fraud, she too was later acquitted.

They are among the luckier ones.

Alex Mik at Fair Trials International said people who have been locked for long periods are more likely to be found guilty.

"It has nothing to do with how likely they are to have done it [the crime]," he told this website.

The 84-page study, co-funded by the EU commission, found that one in five people in the EU held in prison had yet to be convicted. That is over 120,000 people.

The findings are drawn from interviewing 544 lawyers, 56 judges, and 45 prosecutors, spanning 10 EU states. Some 670 case files were reviewed and 242 hearings attended.

No translations in Greece

Luxembourg, according to the study, uses pre-trial detention more than any other EU state. More than 40 percent of its prison population is in pre-trial detention.

The Netherlands comes a close second followed by Cyprus and Denmark. Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic have the fewest cases at under 10 percent.

Many of the cases are also tied to long outstanding issues over the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

The EAW, a flagship measure of EU judicial cooperation, allows authorities in one EU state to issue an arrest warrant in another.

Other problems also surface if the person is kept in poor pre-trial conditions that can then last for years.

Case files in Greece, for example, are not translated even though 43 percent of the pre-trial population are foreign nationals, notes the report.

In March, advocate general Yves Bot at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, called upon the EU executive to ensure a minimum safety net for people held in pre-trial detention.

Attempts to reform surfaced in 2011 when the European Parliament adopted a resolution on improving pre-trial detention conditions.

The reform idea was also linked to the arrest warrant, which had proposed setting up a mandatory refusal should a person's fundamental rights be at major risk.

Some jails in Romania, for instance, have packed up to 10 people in a cell that is only nine square metres.

A handful of MEPs from different political groups are now trying to get the issue back on the Commission's agenda.

On Thursday, a joint letter addressed EU justice commissioner Jourova and signed by a member each from the far-left GUE group, the liberal Alde, the Greens, and the socialist S&D, asked her to reconsider the 2011 reform proposals on detention conditions.

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