Helsinki Committees conduct research and monitor detention facilities for children in Central and Eastern Europe. The main aim of the project is to examine lawfulness of detention and its conditions in Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and Hungary.
The lack of an efficient criminal legal aid system is especially detrimental to indigent pre-trial detainees and defendants in general. Fair and effective access to criminal justice to those who cannot afford to retain a lawyer is provided for by international norms and Hungarian laws enshrining the right of indigent defendants to have free and effective defense.
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee takes part in a comparative research project ‘Effective Defence Rights in the European Union and Access to Justice: Investigating and Promoting Best Practices’ project. The project is the initiative of four organizations: JUSTICE, Maastricht University, Open Society Justice Initiative and theUniversity of West England.
In June 2008 the HHC sent a public interest information request to all Budapest-based police stations to find out in how many cases the police had appointed ex officio defense counsels in mandatory defense cases in 2007, who were the individual appointed attorneys and how many cases were given to each attorney.
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s Police Jail Monitoring Program started in 1996, on the basis of an agreement concluded with the National Police Headquarters. The goal of the project is to monitor the conditions of detention implemented in police cells. Monitoring groups, which consist of attorneys, physicians, social workers and sociologists are permitted to visit police facilities at any time without advance notice.
Lifelong imprisonment without the possibility of parole (actual life sentence) was introduced into Hungarian criminal law in 1998. Hungary and the UK are the only EU Member States whose legal system makes it possible to impose a so-called “actual life sentence” on perpetrators of serious crimes.
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee has been advocating for the ratification and the proper implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. Below the most important steps and developments of the project can be consulted.
The Hungarian system of complaints against unlawful police action has been criticised being dysfunctional due to systemic and procedural reasons. The most important flaw was that the police rather than an independent body decided all complaints. The institutional culture of this military-type organization is still characterized by lack of transparency and strong internal loyalty.