JUSTICIA statement on Beuze v. Belgium | Magyar Helsinki Bizottság
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19 December 2017

Ahead of the hearing before the ECtHR on 20 December in the Beuze v. Belgium case, NGO coalition expresses its hope that the European Court of Human Rights will rule in a way which guarantees that individuals cannot be convicted if were unlawfully denied early access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings.

On 20 December 2017, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights will hear the case of Beuze v Belgium (no. 71409/10). Its decision in this case will have wide-ranging effects on the right to early access to a lawyer in criminal cases across Europe. The members of the JUSTICIA European Rights Network (a coalition of leading civil liberties organizations in Europe working on the right to a fair trial, to which the Hungarian Helsinki Committee is a member) believe that this case presents an opportunity for the Court to reinforce the protection of this fundamental human right. The JUSTICIA European Rights Network supports the intervention made by Fair Trials (the global criminal justice watchdog) in the case.

The case concerns a Belgian national, Philippe Beuze, sentenced to life imprisonment for intentional homicide. Mr. Beuze was interrogated seven times by the police and twice by the investigating judge, and was denied the assistance of a lawyer each time. Without a lawyer, Mr. Beuze was unable to properly defend himself. As Mr. Beuze’s case shows, the right to access a lawyer lies at the very foundation of the right to a fair trial and the prohibition against torture and ill-treatment, protected by the European Convention of Human Rights.

Unfortunately, the European Court of Human Right’s recent judgments have provided increasingly restrictive interpretations of the right to a lawyer under Article 6 of the Convention on the right to a fair trial. This appears to be a departure from its well-established standards set out in the 2008 case of Salduz v .Turkey regarding the right to legal assistance in criminal proceedings. 

The Beuze case provides an important opportunity for the European Court of Human Rights to underline the importance of the right to a lawyer from the outset of police custody, and to align the standards under the Convention and EU law in order to create a comprehensive system of protection of this fundamental right.

Ahead of the hearing before the Grand Chamber, we hope the European Court of Human Rights upholds its original approach, and to guarantee that individuals cannot be convicted if were unlawfully denied early access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings. To hold otherwise would, in effect, give license to criminal justice authorities to flout the law, deny access to lawyer to suspects whenever this is most convenient and would unravel nearly a decade’s worth of positive progress across Europe.

The full statement of the JUSTICIA European Rights Network is available here.

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