Brussels, 16 June 2010
Procedural rights: European Parliament fully backs EU proposal for stronger rights in criminal proceedings
European Union plans for rules ensuring translation and interpretation rights in criminal proceedings are one step closer to taking effect following approval by the European Parliament today. The Parliament voted with an overwhelming majority in favour of a strong draft law agreed during negotiations between the three institutions, the Parliament, Council and Commission (MEMO/10/236). The draft law guarantees the right of suspects to be informed about evidence used and receive legal advice in their own language in criminal proceedings in all courts in the EU. This will ensure a fair trial for everyone throughout the entire EU. The law is the first of a series of fair trial measures to be launched under the Lisbon Treaty, which allows the European Commission to propose measures in the field of criminal law. It is the first ever EU measure setting common minimum standards for procedural rights. The Council must now approved the measure.
"Today's vote is the fruit of hard work from rapporteur Baroness Sarah Ludford and the Civil Liberties Committee, and their dedication to fair trials rights. Both Parliament and Council worked hard to ensure the new rules live up to the standards of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This will ensure that they have a real impact on EU citizens' lives," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. "I have been very firm on the details of these rules, because fair trial rights are required by the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights, and second-class rights are no rights at all. I am grateful that the European Parliament has agreed with this, throughout the negotiations. I hope that Member States take steps to put these measures in place and effectively apply them quickly, because injustice knows no rest. Justice delayed is justice denied."
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 text voted today by the European Parliament was approved by the Parliament committee responsible for justice issues (LIBE) last Thursday.
It was made possible by a compromise agreement reached between the Council, Commission and the rapporteur for the European Parliament on 27 May. The JHA Council endorsed this compromise on 4 June (MEMO/10/236).
This compromise integrates the main points from the Commission's proposal. For example, the proposals will guarantee the right to be informed and receive legal advice in their own language during any part of a criminal proceeding, in all courts in the EU. The Commission insisted on this detail as crucial 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 would also ensure citizens will be provided with written translation of all essential documents like the charge sheet, and will be entitled to interpretation of all hearings and questioning as well as of their meetings with their lawyers. Their rights cannot be waived without first receiving legal advice or full information of the consequences of waiving their rights.
The draft Directive will now have to be voted by the Council of Ministers as part of the ordinary legislative procedure (co-decision) introduced by the Lisbon Treaty for criminal justice matters.
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.
In the coming weeks, the Commission will put forward a proposal for a second Directive, designed to ensure the right of suspects to information with a letter of rights.
For more information:
Justice and Home Affairs Newsroom:
Homepage of Viviane Reding, Vice President and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship: