European Committee for the Prevention of Torture
and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment


Access to a lawyer
as a means of preventing ill-treatment
Extract from the 21st General Report of the CPT,
published in 2011

The possibility for persons taken into police custody to have access to a lawyer is a
fundamental safeguard against ill-treatment. The existence of that possibility will have a dissuasive
effect upon those minded to ill-treat detained persons. Further, a lawyer is well placed to take
appropriate action if ill-treatment actually occurs.
To be fully effective, the right of access to a lawyer should be guaranteed as from the very
outset of a person’s deprivation of liberty1. Indeed, the CPT has repeatedly found that the period
immediately following deprivation of liberty is when the risk of intimidation and physical illtreatment is greatest. Further, the right of access to a lawyer should apply as of the moment of
deprivation of liberty, irrespective of the precise legal status of the person concerned; more
specifically, enjoyment of the right should not be made dependent on the person having been
formally declared to be a “suspect”. For example, under many legal systems in Europe, persons can
be obliged to attend – and stay at – a law enforcement establishment for a certain period of time in
the capacity of a “witness” or for “informative talks”; the CPT knows from experience that the
persons concerned can be at serious risk of ill-treatment.
The right of access to a lawyer should be enjoyed by everyone who is deprived of their
liberty, no matter how “minor” the offence of which they are suspected. In numerous countries
visited by the CPT, persons can be deprived of their liberty for several weeks for so-called
“administrative” offences. The Committee can see no justification for depriving such persons of the
right of access to a lawyer. Further, the Committee has frequently encountered the practice of
persons who are in reality suspected of a criminal offence being formally detained in relation to an
administrative offence, so as to avoid the application of the safeguards that apply to criminal
suspects; to exclude certain offences from the scope of the right of access to a lawyer inevitably
brings with it the risk of loopholes of this kind developing.
Similarly, the right of access to a lawyer should apply, no matter how “serious” the offence
of which the person detained is suspected. Indeed, persons suspected of particularly serious
offences can be among those most at risk of ill-treatment, and therefore most in need of access to a
lawyer. Consequently, the CPT opposes measures which provide for the systematic denial for a
given period of access to a lawyer for detained persons who are suspected of certain categories of
offences (e.g. offences under anti-terrorism legislation). The question whether restrictions on the


Of course, depending on the circumstances of the case concerned, the right of access to a lawyer may become
operative at an even earlier stage.

Select target paragraph3