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Fair trial breach leads to better access to lawyers in police custody

Salduz v. Turkey |2008

Fair trial breach leads to better access to lawyers in police custody

. . . the right of everyone charged with a criminal offence to be effectively defended by a lawyer, assigned officially if need be, is one of the fundamental features of a fair trial.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, November 2008 

Background 

Yusuf Salduz was just 17 years old when he was arrested at an unlawful protest. He was also accused of writing a slogan on a banner. 

Police interrogated Yusuf on the night of his arrest. No lawyer was present during the police interview because the offence fell under the remit of the state security courts. Yusuf admitted that he had taken part in the protest and had produced the banner. 

Yusuf later retracted the statement he made to police, alleging that he had been forced to give it. He claimed he had been beaten and insulted while in police custody. 

A Turkish court later relied mainly on Yusuf’s statements to the police when it convicted him and sentenced him to two and a half years in prison.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court found that the absence of a lawyer during Yusuf’s time in police custody had harmed his defence. This resulted in a breach of Yusuf’s right to a fair trial because his statements to the police were used to convict him.

Follow-up 

Turkey took a series of steps to strengthen the right of access to a lawyer:

  • The restriction on an accused person’s right of access to a lawyer in proceedings before the Turkish state security courts was lifted in 2003.
  • In the new Code on Criminal Procedure, which entered into force in 2005, all detained persons have the right of access to a lawyer from the moment they are taken into police custody. The appointment of a lawyer became obligatory in respect of minors.
  • In 2016, additional changes to the Code on Criminal Procedure allowed for restrictions, by a court order, of the right of access to a lawyer for the first 24 hours of police custody in respect of certain offences. Suspects, however, cannot be interrogated without a lawyer during this period.

The judgment in Yusuf Salduz’s case also inspired other European countries to change their laws and practices in line with Convention standards on the right of access to a lawyer.