Around nine million people are the subject of criminal justice proceedings every year in the EU. At the same time, a significant share of those suspected or accused of criminal offences are not found guilty and are never convicted. All suspects, whether finally convicted or not, are presumed innocent until proven guilty according to the law. The presumption of innocence is a fundamental right, a key principle of criminal justice and a universally recognised human rights standard.
Despite the obligation of criminal justice authorities to strictly observe the presumption of innocence, suspects and accused are always subject to certain restrictions and consequences during the criminal proceedings. All of these restrictions have their legitimate purposes but at the same time affect the personal and social sphere of suspects and accused.
During criminal proceedings, suspects and accused, although presumed innocent, are practically placed in an unequal position compared to other members of the society. As a result of the measures and restrictions applied to them, their social status can be affected in a number of ways: temporary or permanent unemployment, loss of income, increased expenses, loss of social benefits, deteriorating relations with family members, etc.
At the same time, the impact of criminal proceedings on suspects and accused is often neglected by the criminal justice authorities, which tend to focus on ensuring the effective progress and outcome of the case, rather than on mitigating the resulting negative implications for suspects and accused. In practice, a criminal case can lead to a certain degree of de-socialisation of the accused person and this risk needs to be taken into account and properly assessed by the criminal justice authorities. Such an assessment should be added to the evaluation of other factors, such as the risk of absconding or reoffending, in order to allow the competent criminal justice body to select and apply the most appropriate combination of measures in each particular case.
This report aims to examine the factors that affect the social status of suspects and accused drawing upon the prevalent legal practices in four European Union Member States: Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, and Italy.