“If a defendant has a lawyer present from the beginning, the trial will be fairer”

“Early representation is essentially the right to have a lawyer present from the moment law enforcement bodies first suspect that you may have committed a crime,” explains Karin Lundstrom-Kron, EUPOL COPPS Senior Criminal Justice Expert, who is currently working on a project to promote the possibility for all suspects in the West Bank to have access to a lawyer as early as possible.

Currently, Palestinian legislation only allows for lawyers to be present once an official investigation starts at the prosecution level. There is however a pre-investigation period where law enforcement officials can gather evidence and take the statement of a suspect for 24 hours without a lawyer being present.

Drawing on her own experiences of juvenile crimes and sexual offences in her native country Sweden, Lundstrom-Kron believes that the quality of justice is significantly improved if lawyers are present as early as possible.

“Having defence representation is a fundamental right – if you do not have the opportunity to defend yourself adequately, it is a violation of your human rights. By ensuring that a lawyer is present early in the investigation process, you safeguard human rights and the constitutional presumption of innocence”.

Lundstrom-Kron notes that when changes were made to the Standard Operating Procedure within the Swedish Prosecution Authority for dealing with juvenile justice, there were fears that this would make it easier for the suspect to evade justice. Many police officers and prosecutors believed that by asking questions early, and without a lawyer present, they would be able to secure vital confessions. This however could create problems when the case would come to trial.

“I know from my own work as a prosecutor,” says Lundstrom-Kron, “the sooner a lawyer is present, the more likely it is that you will get a smooth trial. In the past, people argued that involving lawyers early influences the momentum of a case. In my experience, that argument is invalid”.

“I find the interviews are better when there is a lawyer present,” continues the Swedish prosecutor. “Things are clearer, the suspect understands better what is going on. This is especially true when an investigation gets to court – it has come to light during trials that people had not understood what was going on in the interview. If we’re speaking about juveniles, they are usually also less aware of their rights. So, having a lawyer helps you to safeguard their rights”.

In Sweden, Lundstrom-Kron has trained over 300 new prosecutors. She has seen first-hand that change takes time. “Change is something that prosecutors, police, judges need to be on board with – it’s about changing their mentality”.

Sweden has had success in the way that early representation is handled, and Lundstrom-Kron hopes to also influence similar changes by working closely with her Palestinian counterparts in the justice sector. She is working with colleagues in EUPOL COPPS and the Palestinian Bar Association on a Memorandum of Understanding, which will lay out a way forward to improve early representation for suspects. It will be a long process to change existing practices, and Lundstrom-Kron underlines the importance of training.

“In order for early representation to become reality you need to inform and train lawyers, police officers, prosecutors – I know from Sweden that if you don’t talk about changes a lot, people might forget about them”.
Even more important than training is however the willingness that the Palestinian Bar Association and the other institutions in the justice sector are showing to take the necessary steps to support fair trials.

“Ultimately, as part of the process of protecting human rights, it’s important for someone who is involved in a criminal case to understand what is going on,” Lundstrom-Kron concludes, “A lawyer is someone who is neutral and who can explain what is happening. Safeguarding human rights is a task for the entire criminal justice chain, whether we are speaking about a victim, a suspect or a witness”.