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Brussels, 29 August 2006

Commission proposal enhances the right to liberty and the presumption of innocence in the European Union as a Common area of freedom, security and justice

Today, 29 August 2006, the Commission adopted a Proposal for a Council Framework Decision allowing non-resident, EU citizens, suspects to go back to and under control of their home Member States instead of awaiting trial in custody or being subject to other supervision measures in the Member State where the alleged offence was committed. Statistical data drawn from the EU Member States show that non-resident suspects are more often remanded in custody than resident suspects. The Proposal will therefore also reduce discrimination against this group and contribute to the reduction of the prison population.

"The realization of a European area of Justice, Freedom and Security implies that EU citizens can fully enjoy their rights no matter where they live and travel in the European Union" stated Commission Vice-President Franco Frattini, Commissioner responsible for Freedom, Security and Justice. "By means of this proposal, the Commission aims to strengthen the right to liberty and the presumption of innocence, allowing non-resident EU citizens suspects to go back in a controlled way to their home Member States instead of being unnecessarily kept in pre-trial detention in another Member State. This new Proposal would have a concrete impact, potentially affecting as many as 8.000 persons".

According to the "European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms" (ECHR, 1950), which is also binding for the European Union by virtue of Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union, and the "Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union" (2000), everyone has the right to liberty and security and everybody who has been charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law. The right to liberty and the presumption of innocence are fundamental principles in a democratic society. According to the provisions of the ECHR, a person who is suspected of having committed a criminal offence may be deprived of his liberty only in exceptional circumstances, e.g. where there is a risk of absconding. This restriction requires that States make the widest possible use of non-custodial supervision measures.

However, the different alternatives to pre-trial detention that exist in national law (e.g. reporting to the police or travel prohibition) cannot presently be transposed or transferred across borders as States do not recognise foreign judicial decisions in these matters. At present, therefore, non-resident suspects are – mainly owing to the risk of absconding – more frequently kept in pre-trial detention or are subject to a non-custodial supervision measure in what is for them a foreign Member State.

The main objective of the Commission's Proposal[1] is to let a judicial authority in the Member State, where the alleged offence has been committed, transfer a non-custodial pre-trial supervision measure to the Member State where the suspect normally has his residence. A judicial authority in this latter Member State would in principle be obliged to recognise and execute the supervision measure in its territory until the trial takes place in the issuing Member State. This would allow the suspect to be subject to a supervision measure in his normal environment, reduce discrimination against non-resident suspects as well as the number of pre-trial detainees in the European Union and better implement the right to liberty and the presumption of innocence in the European Union as a whole.

In order to ensure the course of justice, the Proposal contains – as a last resort - a coercive mechanism to return an uncooperative suspect to the trial State.

[1] for a Council Framework Decision on the European supervision order and mutual recognition of non-custodial pre-trial supervision measures between Member States of the European Union

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