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HFHR launches report on pre-trial detention

A recent report published by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, The Trials of Pre-trial Detention, presents statistical data and case law on the titular topic. The report demonstrates that the problem of abuse of pre-trial detention in Poland, highlighted by the European Court of Human Rights already a decade ago, is yet to be resolved.

“The reading of ECtHR judgments highlights a number of key problems associated with the application of pre-trial detention: the long duration of detention; the failure to give case-specific grounds for decisions on the application or extension of detention; disregard of non-custodial preventive measures; the recurrence of boilerplate arguments in extension decisions; citing the severity of the penalty or the nature of the alleged offence as a primary justification for the entire length of the requested pre-trial detention period”, says Dr Katarzyna Wiśniewska, legal expert of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.

Following the observed tendencies in case law, the period covered by the report was divided into two stages: 2009-2015 and 2016-present. In 2009, 9460 individuals were held in pre-trial detention in various penitentiary institutions. This figure has consistently decreased to reach the level of 4162 pre-trial detainees as of 31 December 2015. However, this downward trend was not sustained, and in recent years we have seen a consistent and significant increase in the number of persons detained before the final sentence is handed down in their case: on 31 May 2019, 8365 individuals were held pre-trial detention.

“A similar trend can be observed in the number of filed prosecutor’s requests for pre-trial detention at the stage of preliminary proceedings: between 2009 and 2015, there were less than 14,000 such requests but the period of 2016-2018 saw a considerable increase in the volume of such requests. In 2018, prosecutors filed 19,655 pre-trial detention requests. Currently, their effectiveness, or the percentage of the granted requests to apply pre-trial detention filed in preliminary proceedings is 90.46%, which is the lowest figure recorded since 2014”, says Adam Klepczyński, a lawyer working for the HFHR.

Authors of the report point to another worrying trend, namely the increasing number of persons held in pre-trial detention for more than one year during preliminary proceedings. The percentage of foreigners in pre-trial detention in the general population of pre-trial detainees has also increased: in 2009-2014 the figure was between 3.3% and 3.6%, which was followed by a notable rise to 6.95%, starting from 2014.

“Seeing the current trend in the use of pre-trial detention, we are all the more concerned by the most recent amendments to the Criminal Code, which increase the upper limits of criminal penalties for a large number of offences”, HFHR’s lawyer Piotr Kładoczny warns.

Pre-trial detention is intrinsically linked to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual and, in particular, to personal freedom and the right to a fair trial and their inherent component, the principle of the presumption of innocence. These values are protected by both national and international law. Despite clear guidelines from international bodies, many countries are still experiencing issues relating to the abuse of pre-trial detention. This means that pre-trial detention has always been a focus of attention for human rights defenders, including those affiliated with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.

Reports was written by HFHR’s lawyers Adam Klepczyński, Dr Piotr Kładoczny and Dr Katarzyna Wiśniewska.

Raport is available here.

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