Piloting Equality Data Collection in Criminal Justice Systems Across the EU (EQUALITYDATA)
The EQUALITYDATA Project was coordinated by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and was implemented jointly with the Association for the Defence of Human Rights in Romania – APADOR-CH, the Centre for European Constitutional Law, the Human Rights League, and Fair Trials Europe. The activities were implemented in four EU countries – Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece and Romania, between 1 February 2021 and 30 September 2022. The Project was co-funded by the European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (2014 – 2022).
The Project successfully piloted a methodology intended to support NGOs to collect equality data in relation to pre-trial proceedings – to document how unequal access to EU-protected procedural rights from arrest to sentencing results in people being disparately impacted by criminal justice outcomes based on their ethnicity, race or other ‘foreign’ perceived status.
The Project objectives were to:
- Develop a replicable methodology to gather data on disparate impacts of the criminal justice systems on ethnic and migrant groups in EU;
- Obtain data indicating the existence of such impact and the spheres it is most evident;
- Compare the data between the different participating member states;
- Build support from key stakeholders for ongoing collection of equality data in criminal justice systems;
- Build evidence on which to advocate for improved implementation of EU procedural rights and anti-discrimination standards.
The BHC produced a common questionnaire of 30 closed questions that aimed to identify the experiences of recently incarcerated individuals of their interactions with the criminal justice system at each of the stages of the pre-trial criminal proceedings. It was adapted to the different national and legislative contexts. Researchers also collected information on gender, ethnic belonging, citizenship/nationality.
Using the questionnaire, the partners conducted 2,800 face-to-face interviews in 71 prisons with newly-sentenced individuals on their experiences during pre-trial detention.
The data was analysed in national reports:
- Belgium (in French | in English)
- Bulgaria (in Bulgarian | in English)
- Greece (in Greek | in English)
- Romania (in Romanian | in English)
The main findings revealed:
- Police violence and abuse, disproportionately targeting racialised communities;
- A failure to enforce procedural rights;
- Lengthy pre-trial detention and bad detention conditions;
- Excessive use of plea agreements.
The partners engaged in domestic and international stakeholder advocacy, presenting the reports at national round tables with key public stakeholders and at the European Parliament. The findings were also discussed with civil society, universities, legal professionals in order to start a dialogue and build support for the collection of equality data from the criminal justice process.
A regional summary report, Equality Data in Criminal Justice, was produced comparing the data between the different countries. The report puts forward recommendations for adopting reform policies related to data collection.
Results and conclusions
The results of the pilot project in the four countries confirm that criminal justice systems carry the biases of the wider society. Equality data collection must be carried out in full, ensuring that ethical guidelines are established and followed. People impacted by injustices should be at the centre of the processes. Equality data can give important insights and evidence into injustices in the criminal justice systems (Fair Trial Europe, Equality Data in Criminal Justice).
The Project piloted an innovative method for measuring violations of human rights during pre-trial proceedings that has never been used before. This method yielded remarkable results by gathering the viewpoint of the participants in the pre-trial proceedings. On the one hand, as a method for establishing human rights violations (excessive use of force, access to legal defence, access to healthcare, satisfaction with the quality of the defence, detention in pre-trial proceedings, material conditions of detention), all this is researched through the experiences of the accused. Until now, this has only been done with quality methods, but this research provides much more additional information – it determines what share of the intervieweеs disaggregated by different characteristics were victims of different treatment.
The project established patterns of discrimination that no other method has yielded in the study of pre-trial proceedings. By comparison, the qualitative methods used by CPT, the national preventive mechanisms, the study of the criminal files, do not have the potential to reach these kinds of findings. Official statistics also does not reveal any of the findings that the present study demonstrated. At present, it does not provide evidence of the existence of patterns of discrimination in treatment of accused that the present project yielded.
The Project produced important insights into the differences of treatment during pre-trial detention in four EU states and developed and put forward a replicable methodology for use across Europe. No European state currently studies the issue of different treatment of accused and defendants in the pre-trial proceedings through quantitative methods. The project demonstrated that the method proposed yields important results and should be adopted at a European level.
The website is part of the project "Piloting Equality Data Collection in Criminal Justice Systems Across the EU" co-funded by the European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (2014-2020). The project was implemented by a consortium coordinated by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee in partnership with APADOR CH (Romania), the Centre for European Constitutional Law (Greece), Fair Trials Europe and Ligue Des Droits Humains (Belgium). The responsibility for the content of this publication is entirely of its authors and cannot be considered in any way to reflect the position of the European Commission or of its agencies.