Experts rate the comprehensibility of the letter of rights presently given to suspects in Lithuania as average. The police officers and lawyers that the Human Rights Monitoring Institute spoke to claimed that while the right to a lawyer, the right to remain silent and other procedural rights are explained to the suspect, the explanation is rife with complicated legal language that is difficult to decipher without a legal background.
Letter of rights
Each suspect must be given a letter of rights prior to questioning. It’s a three-page document that describes the suspect’s procedural guarantees in long, complex sentences that may go on for no less than 5 lines. It is also employs fairly technical language, referring the reader to “procedures set out” in Code of Criminal Procedure or other legislation in more than a few places.
On average, suspects are given 15 minutes to get acquainted with their rights. They often don’t pay as much attention to the letter of rights as they should, reading it carelessly. Nearly half of interviewed police officers said that suspects rarely or never asked questions about their rights.
Police officers rarely take steps to ensure that suspects understand their rights. The vast majority of interviewed officers either never took steps to make sure that suspects understood their rights or did so very rarely.
Information must be easy to understand
“The right to information is an important part of our daily lives when it comes to dealing with the authorities. For people who are suspected of a crime, the right to information is paramount, since it allows them to exercise all of their other rights and ensure that their right to a fair trial is respected,” said Karolis Liutkevičius, the HRMI lawyer who conducted the study. “Therefore, information about rights should be provided in plain and easy to understand language.”
The HRMI seeks to ensure that the authorities provide understandable information that people can actually use. To that effect, the Institute, together with legal and communications experts, developed an alternative, easy-to-understand letter of rights, and will aim to have this new letter of rights become the standard in Lithuania.