Brussels, 3 December 2010
Fair trial rights: EU governments endorse law ensuring suspects’ right to information in criminal proceedings
EU Member States today backed a draft law that ensures defendants’ right to information in criminal proceedings just four months after the Commission’s proposal (see IP/10/989). Suspects of a criminal offence will have to be informed of their rights in a language they understand. The measure will ensure that EU countries will give anyone arrested – or the subject of a European Arrest Warrant – a Letter of Rights listing their basic rights during criminal proceedings. The Commission has provided Member States with a model letter, which will be translated in 22 EU languages. The European Parliament will now have to vote on the measure. Along with the right to translation and interpretation (see IP/10/1305 and MEMO/10/351), the right to information in criminal proceedings is part of a series of fair trial measures that aims to boost confidence in the EU’s single area of justice.
"Today's agreement by EU Justice Ministers on the Letter of Rights is another step that will help ensure that suspects can enjoy their right to a fair trial in criminal proceedings across all EU countries," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. "I am extremely pleased with how quickly EU governments acted on this important measure. I am confident that the European Parliament will now move as swiftly to vote on this important measure and deliver tangible benefits to citizens. We are truly building a single area of justice that will enhance mutual trust between citizens and judicial authorities in all 27 Member States. We are ensuring that minimum procedural standards are respected across the EU."
Once in place, the new measure will ensure that police and prosecutors will provide suspects with information about their rights. Following an arrest, authorities will give this information in writing – in a Letter of Rights – drafted in simple, everyday language. It will be provided to suspects upon arrest in all cases, whether they ask for it or not, and translated if necessary.
The Letter of Rights will contain practical details about accused persons’ rights:
to a lawyer;
to be informed of the charge and, where appropriate, to have access to the case-file;
to interpretation and translation for those who do not understand the language of the proceedings;
to be brought promptly before a court following arrest.
The Letter of Rights will help to avoid miscarriages of justice and reduce the number of appeals. In a recent case, UK courts executed a Portuguese European Arrest Warrant regarding a British citizen. The warrant, for a two-year jail sentence, took more than 14 months and required six court decisions before being executed. Justice would have been served more quickly and at less cost if information on the charge had been given at the first moment of the criminal proceedings. In addition, unnecessary appeals would have been avoided.
There are over 8 million criminal proceedings in the EU every year. At the moment, the chance that citizens will be properly informed of their rights if they are arrested and face criminal charges varies across the EU, even though all 27 EU Member States have signed up to the fair trial rights in the European Convention on Human Rights. In some Member States, suspects only receive oral information about their procedural rights, and in others the written information is technical, complex and not given unless demanded.
The Lisbon Treaty, which took effect on 1 December 2009, enables the EU to adopt measures to strengthen the rights of EU citizens, in line with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, particularly the rights of individuals in criminal procedures.
The right to a fair trial and defence are set out in Articles 47 and 48 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights; as well as in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Directive on the right to information in criminal proceedings is the second step in a series of measures to set common EU standards in criminal cases.
The first measure, which gave suspects the right to translation and interpretation, has already been approved by the Council (IP/10/1305). The second measure – Letter of Rights – was proposed by the Commission in July 2010 (IP/10/989) and endorsed today by the Council of the European Union. The next measures, planned by the Commission for 2011, will be a Directive on the right to have access to a lawyer followed by the right to communicate with relatives, employers and consular authorities.
For more information
Justice Directorate-General newsroom:
Homepage of Viviane Reding, Vice-President and EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship: