Securing detainees’ access to lawyers

The Legal Affairs Committee underlined the importance of the right to the assistance of a defence counsel in criminal cases, as enshrined in the European Human Rights Convention. According to the parliamentarians, “it is crucially important for a detainee to have access to a lawyer from the outset of the detention in order to guarantee that the rights of defence are practical and effective”.

In adopting a draft resolution based on the report by Marietta Karamanli ( France, SOC), the Committee called on Council of Europe member states to guarantee detainees’ effective access to a lawyer of their choice “from the outset of custody or of any other measure involving deprivation of liberty” - including the administrative detention of migrants and asylum-seekers - and not only at the beginning of the police interview, and to guarantee that access throughout the proceedings.

Member states should introduce, if this is not yet the case, “an independent national system for designating officially-appointed lawyers”, and repeal, if need be, procedural provisions stating that lawyers need the prosecutor’s permission to meet their clients.

The draft resolution also calls on member states to investigate “promptly, effectively and entirely independently” all allegations of threats to, intimidation of or violence against lawyers, including allegations of murder.

In the light of restrictions on the right of access to a lawyer imposed by some member States in the context of the fight against terrorism and in a state of emergency, the Committee reminds member States that a state of emergency is “an exceptional situation that should not persist and should be lifted as early as possible in order to return to the application of ordinary law”. It also calls on national parliaments to establish parliamentary scrutiny of a state of emergency where applicable.