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Brussels, 8 October 2010

Fair trial rights: EU Justice Ministers approve law ensuring translation and interpretation rights in criminal proceedings

European Union Justice Ministers approved a law that ensures translation and interpretation rights in criminal proceedings. The European Commission and the European Parliament backed the law earlier this year (IP/10/746). It is the first ever EU measure setting common minimum standards for the rights of the defence in criminal matters. The law guarantees the right of suspects to obtain interpretation throughout criminal proceedings, including when receiving legal advice, in their own language in all courts in the EU. This is a long overdue first measure to ensure a fair trial for everyone throughout the entire EU. The law is the first of a series of fair trial measures to set common EU standards in criminal cases. EU Member States now have three years to put the measure into their national laws.

"This is an historic moment with the approval of the first ever law on fair-trial rights for citizens. For the European Commission, this is an important first step to correct the existing imbalance between the rights of the prosecution and better and stronger rights of the defence in Europe," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner. "I would like to thank the European Parliament's rapporteur, Baroness Sarah Ludford, and the Spanish and Belgian presidencies for getting this measure into the books in double-quick time. It will now be up to Member States to write these rules into their domestic legislation and apply them as soon as possible so that citizens can benefit from them. This is also the time to accelerate our work to ensure an effective balance between the prosecutorial power and defendants’ procedural rights. That is why I call on Parliament and Council to work on the second measure – the letter of rights – proposed by the Commission in July."

On 9 March, the Commission made the first step in a series of measures to set common EU standards in criminal cases. It proposed rules that would oblige EU countries to provide full interpretation and translation services to suspects (IP/10/249, MEMO/10/70).

The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of a negotiated draft in June (IP/10/746). It was made possible by a compromise agreement reached between the Council, Commission and the European Parliament on 27 May. The Parliament plenary endorsed this compromise on 15 June.

The measures will guarantee the right of citizens to be interviewed, to take part in hearings and to receive legal advice in their own language during any part of a criminal proceeding, in all courts in the EU.

The Commission insisted on translation and interpretation rights throughout criminal proceedings to ensure full compliance with the standards provided by the European Convention on Human Rights and the case law of the Strasbourg Court, as well as with the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

These rules will ensure citizens are provided with written translation of all essential documents, such as the charge sheet, and will be entitled to interpretation of all hearings and questioning as well as during meetings with their lawyers. Their rights cannot be waived without first receiving legal advice or full information of the consequences of waiving their rights.

Translation and interpretation costs will have to be met by the Member State, not by the suspect. Without minimum common standards to ensure fair proceedings, judicial authorities will be reluctant to send someone to face trial in another country. As a result, EU measures to fight crime – such as the European Arrest Warrant – may not be fully applied. 11,000 European arrest warrants were issued in 2007, up from 6,900 in 2005. In the Commission's view, all such warrants should in the future be covered by EU standards on fair trial rights, including the right to interpretation and translation.

EU Member States have three years to adopt these rules, rather than the usual two years, to give authorities time to put translated information in place.


The Lisbon Treaty enables the EU to adopt measures to strengthen the rights of EU citizens.

Since "all in one" proposals on fair trial procedural rights have not received the unanimous support of EU governments when the Commission first made proposals in this area in 2004, the Commission is now taking a "step by step" approach, as foreseen in a series of measures on fair trial procedural rights set out in the Stockholm Programme of December 2009 (IP/10/447). The Commission will propose a series of measures over the next four years.

The Commission proposed the second measure – the right to information – in July (IP/10/989). Council and Parliament have already started work on the Commission's proposal (MEMO/10/475). The next measures, planned by the Commission for 2011, will be a Directive on the right to have access to a lawyer; and on the right to communicate with relatives, employers and consular authorities.

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