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About the Project: The Practice of Pre-trial Detention in Europe

More than 100,000 suspects are currently are detained pre-trial across the EU. While pre-trial detention has an important part to play in some criminal proceedings, ensuring that certain defendants will be brought to trial, it is being used excessively at huge cost to the national economies. Unjustified and excessive pre-trial detention clearly impacts on the right to liberty and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. It also affects the ability of the detained person to access fully their right to a fair trial, particularly due to restrictions on their ability to prepare their defence and gain access to a lawyer. Furthermore, prison conditions may also endanger the suspect’s well-being. For these reasons, international human rights standards including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) require that pre-trial detention is used as an exceptional measure of last resort.

While there have been numerous studies on the legal framework governing pre-trial detention in EU Member States, limited research into the practice of pre-trial detention decision-making has been carried out to date. This lack of reliable evidence motivated this major project in which NGOs and academics from 10 EU Member States, coordinated by Fair Trials International (Fair Trials), researched pre-trial decision-making procedures.

The objective of the project is to provide a unique evidence base regarding what, in practice, is causing the use of pre-trial detention. In this research, the procedures of decision-making were reviewed to understand the motivations and incentives of the stakeholders involved (defence practitioners, judges, prosecutors). It is hoped that these findings will inform the development of future initiatives aiming at reducing the use of pre-trial detention at domestic and EU-level.

This project also complements current EU-level developments relating to procedural rights. Under the Procedural Rights Roadmap, adopted in 2009, the EU institutions have examined issues arising from the inadequate protection of procedural rights within the context of mutual recognition, such as the difficulties arising from the application of the European Arrest Warrant. Three procedural rights directives (legal acts which oblige the Member States to adopt domestic provisions that will achieve the aims outlined) have already been adopted: the Interpretation and Translation Directive (2010/64/EU), the Right to Information Directive (2012/13/EU), and the Access to a Lawyer Directive (2013/48/EU). Three further measures are currently under negotiation – on legal aid, safeguards for children, and the presumption of innocence and the right to be present at trial.

The Roadmap also included the task of examining issues relating to detention, including pre-trial, through a Green Paper published in 2011. Based on its case work experience and input sought through its Legal Expert Advisory Panel (LEAP) , Fair Trials responded to the Green Paper in the report “Detained without trial” and outlined the necessity for EU-legislation as fundamental rights of individuals are too often violated in the process of ordering and requesting pre-trial detention. Subsequent Expert meetings in 2012 – 2013 in Amsterdam, London, Paris, Poland, Greece and Lithuania affirmed the understanding that problems with decision-making processes might be responsible for the overuse of pre-trial detention, and highlighted the need for an evidence base clarifying this presumption.

Regrettably, no action has been taken to date with regards to strengthening the rights of suspects facing pre-trial detention. However, the European Commission is currently conducting an Impact Assessment for an EU measure on pre-trial detention, which we hope will be informed by the reports published under this research project.


The Irish Penal Reform Trust's Country Report on Pre-Trial Detention is available for download here.

The Practice of Pre-trial detention in Ireland Research report is one of 10 country reports outlining the findings of an EU-funded research project that was conducted in 10 different EU Member States in 2014 - 2015.


EU logoThe Pre-Trial Detention Project was co-funded by the Criminal Justice Programme of the European Commission.

FTI logoWith coordination by Fair Trials International