Skip Navigation

Understanding your rights in police custody: New report by Fair Trials identifies room for improvement in Letters of Rights across Europe

Originally posted by the organization Defending the Human Right to a Fair Trial  on

Letters of Rights can have a really positive impact on the understanding of rights by people arrested or detained by the police, but are they adequate and being used enough? It’s a vitally important right, which ensures that anyone arrested knows exactly why they’ve been arrested and the evidence has been collected against them. Essentially, it also sets out information about the suspect’s own rights, such as the right to remain silent and the right to a lawyer.

LOR coverThe new guide from Fair Trials, together with organisations from Bulgaria, Hungary, Lithuania, and Spain, follows on from the research report available here, which was launched at the European Parliament last month.

The findings show that Letters of Rights can have a positive impact on the understanding of rights by people arrested or detained by the police, particularly where the letters are simple and accessible, people are provided adequate time to read them and, ideally, have someone available to explain the rights to them wo is not trying to encourage the person to waive their rights. In Ireland for example, Letters of Rights are delivered and explained by a person independent of the underlying police investigation resulting in better informed suspects or accused persons.

“A suspect being placed in custody is a stressful moment for everyone. The emotional state of the suspect does not enable him or her to necessarily understand everything verbally. The Letter of Rights enables him or her to delve into it more, in particular during the breaks and to change a decision taken quickly (the right to silence, to a lawyer, to contact the family, etc.)” – Police Officer, France

Despite the clear value that Letters of Rights add, the study found there is room for improvement in a number of areas:

  • Letters of Rights are not actually always delivered in practice to all relevant people. In Bulgaria for example, suspects do not receive any written letter because the national law does not recognise the status of a “suspect”.
  • People are often not given enough time to read and understand the letter. In Spain, some of the interviewed judges and interpreters said that the suspects or accused persons receive a lot of information in a short time, which makes it hard to take it all in.
  • The Letters are not always exhaustive, and some do not include all of the rights. In France, information isn’t provided about the right to legal aid.
  • In some places, people aren’t always provided translations to people who don’t speak the national language. In Lithuania, for example, authorities only provide oral translations.
  • As mentioned above, the report also highlights that police authorities continue to try to dissuade people from exercising their rights set out in the Letter of Rights, especially on the right of access to a lawyer and the right to silence.
  • The biggest challenge, however, is the accessibility of the Letters of Rights. In most countries, the documentaries are too often written in legalistic terms, with complex sentences and confusing formatting, making it extremely difficult for anyone without a law degree to understand. Perhaps surprisingly, in others, the Letters of Rights are too simple, not providing sufficient information necessary to fully understand the rights.

We would like to thank our funders, in particular the European Commission and the Matrix Causes Fund, who directly supported the production of this guide. Our important work would not be possible without them.

Read the full guide here.

Open Government Partnership