[REPORT] No verdict, no trial, no indictment. Abuse of pre-trial detention in Poland

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The purpose of this report is to investigate and raise awareness of the problem of abuse of pre-trial detention in Poland. Additionally, the report contains a set of recommendations that may lead to a reduction of abuse. The report consists of four main parts: a discussion of the laws governing pre-trial detention in Poland, a review of the latest available statistical data related to this most severe preventive measure, and a presentation of the results from the in-depth interviews conducted for this study. The report shows that the abuse of pre-trial detention is a huge systemic problem, which consists of a number of factors: imprecise laws, criminal policy, passivity and understaffed courts.

Main conclusions:

  • In the period from 2009 to 2015, there was a significant decrease in the number of people in detention centers – in 2009 the number was 9460, and in 2015 – 4160. The downward trend has not lasted. At the end of 2021, there were already 11 908 people in temporary detention.
  • The number of pre-trial detainees relative to convicts is increasing. In 2015, 65 664 people were convicted and 4162 people were imprisoned in detention centres. 61 648 people were convicted in 2021, and as many as 8 707 people were temporarily arrested. In 2021, there were more than twice as many detainees in Poland as in 2015.
  • For years, the effectiveness of prosecutors’ requests for pre-trial detention has remained at about 90%.
  • The number of upheld complaints regarding pre-trial detention is falling drastically. In 2014, 716 out of 5250 complaints were upheld, accounting for 13.6% of all complaints. In 2021, the courts granted 141 of the 5768 complaints filed – a mere 2.4 percent of the total.
  • Arrest hearings for the most part are a mere formality, after which 3 months of pre-trial detention are ordered. During these 3 months, the prosecutor’s office should collect evidence, but very often nothing happens. Courts do not verify whether prosecutors have performed, automatically extending the period of pre-trial detention for additional months.
  • As a result, the length of pre-trial detention has been a problem in Poland for years, confirmed in many judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

The abuse of pre-trial detention violates fundamental rights and generates enormous social costs. Any of us can be harmed by
a malfunctioning criminal justice system.

We do not need to accept this. We can say “NO” to detention lawlessness.

We realize that the problems that lie at the root of the abuse of pre-trial detention are systemic, while we have to start somewhere. That’s why the Warsaw Enterprise Institute proposes to introduce a series of measures to improve the criminal justice system in a simple way.

  1. Introduce legal limits for the maximum duration of pre-trial detention based on the model of France or the Netherlands.
  2. We propose to introduce the criterion of the seriousness of the offence. Pre-trial detention should only be used in cases of serious violent crimes.
  3. Treat dismissal for surety as implied and detention as a necessity.
  4. Reform guidelines for law enforcement agencies so that they implicitly apply non-custodial preventive measures at the pre-trial stage
  5. Apply the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, which include many specific safeguards for pre-trial detainees



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