The annual conference of LEAP (the Legal Experts Advisory Panel) took place in Budapest on 5 and 6 February 2016. This provided an opportunity for legal experts from across Europe to discuss the various challenges faced by criminal justice systems. I was pleased to attend the debate as a practitioner expert from the UK and found the key note speeches and break-out sessions allowed for lively debate and in-depth discussion.

The Legal Experts Advisory Panel (LEAP) is an EU-wide network of experts in criminal justice and human rights which works to promote fair and effective judicial cooperation within Europe. There are currently over 120 members, made up of lawyers, NGOs, and academics, covering all 28 EU Member States. Through Fair Trials’ coordination, LEAP is able to offer an expert view on a broad range of EU criminal justice topics, while also boosting cooperation between human rights defenders in cross-border work.

It’s been another busy year for LEAP, and there is no shortage of issues revolving around criminal justice across the EU. The first part of the conference covered the state of affairs and future of procedural rights in the EU, especially regarding vulnerable suspects, and asylum seekers and refugees who are often caught up in the criminal justice systems of EU States. LEAP members have previously pointed out that refugees’ vulnerability is often a recipe for discriminatory treatment, as many lack access to interpretation services and are typically more susceptible to pre-trial detention. In Budapest, LEAP heard about the criminalisation of migration in Hungary from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. In the UK, immigration and asylum matters are currently divisive political topics which dominate our press headlines. The interplay with the criminal justice system is also increasingly topical. Indeed, just last week media reports on the European Court of Justice Advocate General’s opinion that it will be contrary to EU law for the UK to automatically expel or refuse a residence permit to a non-EU parent with a criminal record whose child who is an EU citizen. The opinion went on to say that “expulsion, is in principle, contrary to EU law but that, in exceptional circumstances, such a measure may be adopted”.

Taking advantage of the line-up of practitioners, judges, prosecutors, and Ombudsmen from across Europe we were able to offer feedback and discuss best practice in litigation – leading on to a final discussion on current criminal defence challenges in the EU, such as plea bargaining, judicial remedies, and evidence.