EU Countries Violate Rights of Crime Suspects with Special Needs

Several EU countries fall short in dealing with people with special needs, including those with a disability, who are suspected of or charged with a crime.

The shortcomings have been documents in a survey carried out by Civil Rights Defenders and RSMH after a survey at the European level.

The survey, which was sent to jurists and lawyers in nine EU countries in order to map out the existing regulatory frameworks and systems that exist for people with special needs, indicates failings in all countries.

In need of more support?

There are, for example, no methods to determine whether a person belongs to a particularly vulnerable group and therefore needs additional support through a legal process.

"It is vital to be able to identify at an early stage whether a person needs additional support, for example because of an intellectual impairment. If one does not know that a person is able to understand everything, neither is it possible to be certain that the proceedings will be fair," says Annika Åkerberg, human rights lawyer at Civil Rights Defenders.

The fact that the police lacks training in how to act towards people with mental disorders or disabilities is yet another general failing identified in the survey.

"Today, the rules and regulations leave a lot to the individual police officer's will and competence to assess whether a person needs special assistance," says Annika Åkerberg.

By and large, all the countries also state that there is no system for the collection and systematisation of information about the additional needs of the crime suspect or defendant. Despite the fact that there may be knowledge about a person needing additional support, failings occur when the information is to be passed on through all the stages of the legal process.

"Particularly vulnerable groups are subject to the same rules and regulations as other people, but for this target group augmented rights may be needed. Even though the systems exist, they may not work in practice, and these are the gaps we are looking for," says Åkerberg.

How do we solve these failings?

"We now know that these problems exist and the next step will therefore be to find out how to solve them. That is something we need to immerse ourselves in and investigate further. But much is left to do before all people are guaranteed a legally certain process," says Annika Åkerberg.

The survey in brief

The survey was carried out in June 2017 through the human rights organisation Fair Trials, which has a large network of lawyers, jurists and organisations working with issues of legal certainty. The aim of the survey is to map out how each country fulfils the European Commission's recommendations about procedural guarantees for crime suspects or accused with special needs. The recommendations will guarantee that the rights of people with a limited ability to understand their rights and the consequences of their actions, for example due to age, mental or physical health, cognitive abilities or similar, are met.

Respondent countries: Bulgaria, Finland, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, the Czech Republic. Country of comparison: Sweden.

Read more:

Sweden violates rights of crime suspects with special needs

Civil Rights Defenders sues for damages because of flaws in legal process

Civil Rights Defenders and RSMH's alternative report about how well Sweden fulfils the European Commission's recommendations about procedural rights for particularly vulnerable groups.