Suspects held in custody ‘too often’

One in four people awaiting trial in Greece are held in custody pending their hearing, often in violation of the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty, according to the Council of Europe, whose latest statistics show that the average period of pretrial detention in Greece is nearly three times that in other European Union states. Despite calls by the EU for temporary detention to be imposed on people awaiting trial only in the case of serious offenses, Greek judges continue to impose pretrial detention on one in four of those accused. Also, the average person awaiting trial has to face a full year (365 days) in prison as opposed to 167 days in other EU member states, according to Council of Europe data. According to legal experts, the high rate of pretrial detentions in Greece is partly a side effect of a recent investigation into widespread trial-fixing: Many judges will err on the side of strictness to avoid being accused of collusion in trial-fixing. The high rate of pretrial detainees in Greece creates an additional problem: It boosts numbers at jails that are already among the most overcrowded in Europe. According to the Justice Ministry, 30 percent of all inmates in Greek jails are not convicts but are being held in pretrial detention. Prisons in Greece accommodate some 10,983 inmates, even though they have been designed to hold a maximum of 7,543. Of these inmates, some 2,938 are citizens being held in pretrial detention. Virtually half, 4,659, are being held for drug-related crimes. The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Greece several times for cases of pretrial detention, ruling that this measure often violates the citizen’s right to be assumed innocent until proven otherwise.