But these rights go far beyond that. Fair trials are vital to separating the innocent from the guilty. They give the public and victims confidence that justice has been done. Without a fair trial how can we know that the state is punishing the right people? It leaves everyone at risk of miscarriages of justice.
Fair trial rights do protect people who are accused of crimes, and it’s absolutely right that they should. After all, they’re still people, and surely every person deserves the right not to be put behind bars after a process that’s unfair. We’d all want a fair trial if it was us, wouldn’t we?
Politicians around the world like to talk about being tough on crime, but this shouldn't come at the expense of the fundamental human right to a fair trial. You might hear some people claim that fair trial rights exist just to protect criminals, but it’s not that simple.
Without fair trials, trust in the government and the rule of law collapses. That’s not scaremongering, it’s a fact. Just look at Turkey, where disregard for fair trial rights has landed hundreds of judges and prosecutors in jail, making it impossible for citizens to have faith in their justice system.
Imagine being arrested. “You have the right to remain silent.” We’ve all heard that phrase a hundred times on TV shows and movies, but what does it actually mean? Well, it's part of having a fair trial.
When you’re taken to the police station, would you know what you should and shouldn’t say? Which documents to sign? It’s easy to contradict yourself or mix up details when you’re scared and confused. The problem is that these honest mistakes may be used against you further down the line.
That’s why one of your core fair trial rights is the right to a lawyer – someone who can translate legal jargon into a language you can understand, and guide you through complicated proceedings.
The Police Station
There are other crucial rights that you should have at this stage like the right to information, so you know what you’re accused of; and legal aid, so that you get a lawyer even if you don’t have the money to pay for one.
Despite what you’ve seen on countless cop shows, lawyers aren’t all sleazy chancers out to exploit people in sticky situations. More often than not, they are working hard to protect the most vulnerable people in the justice system. The presence of a lawyer also helps make sure that police, prosecutors, and judges follow the rules.
In a world without fair trials, this can happen to innocent people like you.
And you're not the only one. Look around you.
The problem is that when rights are ignored, it removes the trust in the system.
The Prison Cell
Imagine being sent to prison.
Being denied your freedom is a big deal - it's the harshest thing the state can do to you.
And when those doubts start to slip in, you find yourself questioning everything.
Protecting people accused of a crime doesn’t take anything away from the victims and it doesn’t make us less safe either. In fact it does the opposite: fair trials make societies safer for everyone. Scroll down to learn about the different fair trial rights that exist to protect you throughout the legal process.
So what actually are fair trial rights? Simply put, fair trials are the special protections that make sure that everybody accused of a crime gets a fair process.
Why does that matter? Because anyone can be accused of a crime, including you. A fair trial means you should get advice from experts, clear information about the accusations and evidence against you, the chance to tell your side, and more.
Fair trials also mean that your guilt (or lack of) can be determined quickly and accurately. Without a fair trial, it’s easy to find yourself being dragged through a system that is confusing, intimidating, and lonely.
Imagine appearing as a suspect in court. Your life could be about to change dramatically. But do you really understand what’s happening?
That means being entitled to have a lawyer represent you in court, and call witnesses to support your arguments. You should have access to the same resources and information as prosecutors – it’s a concept sometimes called “equality of arms.” Otherwise, prosecutors have an advantage over you, and that’s not fair.
Courtrooms are confusing places, especially when you’ve been swept through a complex legal process that’s left you feeling lost, frustrated, and scared. That's why, at the very least, you should have a fair chance to defend yourself.
Your guilt should be tested inside a courtroom, not outside of it – that’s why courts exist! But media bias can affect how the court treats you, and means that even if you are ultimately cleared, the accusations of guilt will continue to hang over you.
The idea that everyone is innocent until proven guilty is an important foundation of fair trials. From the very beginning the court should treat you as innocent, unless and until it can convincingly prove that you're guilty.
Especially with the rise of social media, people are increasingly able to share their opinions. Rumours and unsubstantiated facts shouldn’t influence what happens in a court room, but all too often they do.
Trial By Media
Imagine being told you’re guilty before you’ve even set foot in a court.
Everyone, no matter who they are, or what they’ve been accused of, is innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, the presumption of innocence is under threat, now more than ever. Media scrutiny is a powerful way to keep courts and prosecutors in check, but it can also create problems for fair trials.
How many times have you seen the press label people guilty before trials have finished, or even begun? This can influence the decision makers, making it harder for you to defend your innocence, and harder for courts to deliver justice.
Just like in the police station, it’s crucial that you have access to a lawyer in court – legal proceedings are complicated, and if you don’t know how it all works, how will you fight your accusations?
Trials shouldn’t happen behind closed doors. There’s an old saying that "justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done." If trials aren't open, then how can anyone be sure that you've been treated fairly?
In a closed trial, there’s no way for reporters or human rights defenders to keep track of what’s happening in the court room, which means they can’t hold the state to account if they've done things wrong – this opens up the way for further threats to your human rights.
Every day, unfair trials cause injustice all around the world.
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Fair Trials is a human rights organisation that works to uphold fair trial rights around the world. Our vision is a world where every person’s right to a fair trial is respected. Learn more about us, and support our work:
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They all sound pretty obvious, right? But around the world these rights are being denied to people just like you, every single day. In China, imprisoned human rights defenders are being denied access to lawyers, and in Spain it’s common for suspects not to be given information on the case against them until just before the trial starts.