Q: I’ve been detained. What are my rights with regards to access to legal representation, interpretation and consular support from my Embassy? Should I sign any statements or declarations before having spoken to a legal representative?
A: In general, police officers acting on reasonable suspicion of an offence (or on one of a number of other grounds) may lawfully detain you. After your detention, you must be taken immediately to a police station. Such initial detention may be for up to 24 hours.
Immediately upon your detention, you must be informed of the reasons for your detention in a language understandable to you. While police are increasingly well-trained in English, communicating to you in an English that you can understand is regrettably not always achieved. Interpreters appointed by the police must be selected from a police list of pre-approved interpreters. If you believe the interpretation is inaccurate, you may ask for a new interpreter.
In addition to the right to an interpreter, as a detainee, you have rights to: (i) legal representation and (ii) consular support. Once in custody, you should be given such access, but you can request it if it has not automatically been offered.
An interpreter must be provided before you are questioned. If you have requested a lawyer and are questioned in his absence, police would generally be unable to use the evidence obtained. The same is likely true of interpreters but may not be true of consular assistance.
You may choose to refuse representation, the help of an interpreter or consular assistance. If you did, the police must evidence your refusal through a formal written declaration. You may change your decision to refuse.
If you are a foreign national, police must immediately inform the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs which will in turn notify your Consulate. You can request a meeting with a consular official. Whether and on what terms your Consular Official may be able to attend will depend on the procedure your Consulate follows.
The initial 24-hour detention (and the subsequent detention of up to a further 48 hours) require a Detention Order. The Order contains:
1. the name, position and address of the issuing official;
2. the grounds for your detention;
3. your details;
4. the date and time of your arrest;
5. The document also lists your rights:
a) to appeal to a court to review the lawfulness of your detention;
b) to receive legal advice;
c) to receive medical care;
d) to make a phone call to notify someone of your detention;
e) to contact the consular authorities of your country in or responsible for Bulgaria;
f) to use an interpreter (if you do not understand the Bulgarian language).
If you do not wish to hire a lawyer at your own cost, a public defender will be appointed.
We would not recommend you sign any declarations and/or forms without legal advice or at least before having had help from an interpreter. The risk of misunderstanding anything you are told or given to sign is significant, and you should not feel any pressure to cooperate even if you believe that your detention is brief, or that any misunderstanding will be cleared if you cooperated.
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