A new website - a cross between Uber and Find A Solicitor - is helping suspects in Belgium gain prompt access to a lawyer.
The problems facing Europe are so huge and menacing that I feel as if I am stuck in the audience at a 3D disaster movie. I look at what is happening through my fingers, but mostly I just close my eyes.
The war in Ukraine and the rise of an aggressive Russia; the thousands hurling themselves at our southern shores in leaky boats that sink in the Mediterranean; the continuing saga of whether Greece will leave the euro, and what the consequences for the rest of us might be; the violent fallout in our midst from the wars in the Middle East; never mind lesser issues like Europe’s struggles to protect taxes and citizens’ data in interactions with the internet giants from the US.
I can’t remember a time when I felt so helpless.
The issues are so huge - and lawyers’ roles, like that of other citizens, so correspondingly tiny - that I am going to do the equivalent of taking out my mobile phone in the middle of the film and entertain myself, and I hope you as well, by speaking about more everyday items at the European level, indeed about issues which engage lawyers directly. (Before leaving the disaster movie, and in an effort - useless I know - to discourage enthusiastic eurosceptics from writing hostile comments at the bottom of this piece, our leaving the EU would not have the slightest impact on any of the menacing issues I have outlined, all of which directly concern the UK – indeed, leaving would marginalise our preferred solutions.)
So, lighting up my mobile phone, I click on ‘Crime’. Where to begin? I found out this week about a very interesting use of technology, a combination of Uber and Find A Solicitor, which has been developed by the Flemish bar in Belgium. It is called SalduzWeb, after the famous European Court of Human Rights case in Salduz v Turkey. In that case - on the right of access to a lawyer - the court found, among other things, that in order for the right to a fair trial to remain sufficiently ‘practical and effective’, access to a lawyer should be provided as a rule from the first interrogation of a suspect by the police.
The objective of SalduzWeb is to find a lawyer within two hours of an arrest. It is an automated and secure system, backed up by an emergency phone number. It permits the suspect to have a confidential phone conversation with a lawyer before interrogation, followed by on-site assistance during interrogation.
This is how it works.
After arrest, the law enforcement officer opens a file on SalduzWeb, and the system then calls lawyers sequentially based on the case parameters. If the lawyer accepts, the system sends the lawyer a text message and an email with case details. The lawyer can then obtain access to the case on the system. The lawyer can call the law enforcement agency to speak to the suspect, or attend the suspect in person. If no lawyer is found, the SalduzWeb administrator at the bar is contacted, and will receive an automatic call plus text message and email. The administrator will then manually search for a lawyer who, when found, takes over the case using the Salduz number.
The system deals with around 4,000 cases a month. 77% of lawyers were assigned using the automated system, and 81% of the cases had a lawyer found through the system. The yearly cost of Salduzweb is around €400,000 (£286,000). How reassuring to know that some problems have solutions.
There is now a directive on the right of access to a lawyer in criminal cases - 2013/48/EU - but the UK has opted out of it. However, the UK has opted in to two other directives containing criminal procedural safeguards – the right to interpretation and translation (2010/64/EU), and the right to information (2012/13/EU). There is positive news on this front, too.
The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, together with the European Lawyers Foundation, have just been awarded an EU-funded project to analyse these directives’ implementation around Europe, including the promotion of good practices. If you are aware of how the two directives now implemented in the UK are working, please let me know.
Regarding the bad times, presumably they will pass in due course. To cope, I shall follow the lead of the American songwriter, Johnny Mercer:
‘You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with mister in-between.’
Jonathan Goldsmith is a consultant and former secretary-general at the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents around a million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies. He blogs weekly for the Gazette on European affairs