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Fair trial rights: Suspects to receive a 'letter of rights' in criminal proceedings following European Parliament vote

Commission Européenne - IP/11/1534   13/12/2011

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European Commission - Press release

Fair trial rights: Suspects to receive a 'letter of rights' in criminal proceedings following European Parliament vote

Brussels, 13 December 2011 – Suspects in the European Union will soon receive a ‘letter of rights’ listing their basic rights during criminal proceedings following a vote today in the European Parliament. The European Commission proposed the measure in July 2010 (IP/10/989) as part of its efforts to ensure people have a right to a fair trial throughout the EU. It is the second step in a series of measures to set common EU standards in criminal cases. The measure is part of the Commission's efforts to bolster fair trial rights EU-wide and improve mutual trust amongst judicial authorities. Following the Parliament's endorsement, the measure will now pass to ministers for final adoption by the Council in the coming weeks before becoming law.

Welcoming the vote, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said: "Today’s vote represents a landmark for the European Commission's work in criminal law. I would like to thank the Parliament for its support, and in particular Birgit Sippel for her work as rapporteur. The EU is taking strong action to strengthen the rights of individuals in criminal procedures and at the same time to improve mutual trust in the area of freedom, security and justice.

The new law will make sure any suspects of a criminal offence receive adequate information about their basic rights during criminal proceedings. These are the right to a lawyer; to be informed of the charge; to interpretation and translation for those who do not understand the language of the proceedings; the right to remain silent and to be brought promptly before a court following arrest.

In particular, the law includes five innovations:

  • Suspects will be informed of their rights following the arrest;

  • They will be given a 'letter of rights' spelling out their rights in writing;

  • The letter of rights will be easy to understand, without legal jargon;

  • It will be made available in a language the suspect understands;

  • It will contain practical details about the person's rights.

This law will also contain important innovations aimed at strengthening the application of the European Arrest Warrant notably by ensuring that any person arrested and subject to a European Arrest Warrant promptly receives an appropriate ‘letter of rights’ (IP/11454).

The Commission has provided Member States with a model letter, which will be translated in all 23 EU languages.

Background

Along with the right to translation and interpretation, 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.

The European Parliament and Council approved the first proposal, which gave suspects the right to translation and interpretation (IP/10/1305 and MEMO/10/351), in October 2010.

In June 2011, the Commission put forward a third measure to guarantee access to a lawyer and to communicate with relatives (IP/11/689). The proposal is currently under discussion in the European Parliament and Council.

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. In some Member States, suspects only receive oral information about their procedural rights, and in others the written information is not given unless demanded.

Under Article 82(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and with a view to facilitate the mutual recognition of judicial decisions and improve police and judicial cooperation on criminal matters having a cross border nature, the EU can adopt measures to strengthen the rights of EU citizens, in line with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

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.

For more information

Justice Directorate General Newsroom:

http://ec.europa.eu/justice/news/intro/news_intro_en.htm

European Commission – rights of suspects and accused:

http://ec.europa.eu/justice/criminal/criminal-rights/index_en.htm

Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner:

http://ec.europa.eu/reding

ANNEX 1: Indicative model Letter of Rights

The sole purpose of this model is to present an illustration of a Letter of Rights with a view to helping the national authorities when preparing such Letter at national level. Member States are not bound to use this model. When preparing their Letter, they may amend this model to align it with their national applicable rules and add further useful information.

You have the following rights:

A. ASSISTANCE OF A LAWYER / ENTITLEMENT TO LEGAL AID

You have the right to speak confidentially to a lawyer. A lawyer is independent from the police. Ask the police if you need help to get in contact with a lawyer, the police shall help you. In certain cases the assistance may be free of charge. Ask the police for more information.

B. INFORMATION ABOUT THE ACCUSATION

You have the right to know why you have been arrested/detained and what you are suspected of having done.

C. INTERPRETATION AND TRANSLATION

If you do not speak or understand the language, you have the right to be assisted by an interpreter. This is free of charge. The interpreter may help you to talk to your lawyer and is required to keep the content of this communication confidential. You have the right to translation of at least the relevant passages of essential documents, including any order by a judge allowing your arrest or keeping you in custody, any charge or indictment and any judgment. You may in some circumstances be provided with an oral translation or summary.

D. RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT

While questioned by the Police or judicial authorities, you are not obliged to answer questions about the alleged offence. Your lawyer can help you to decide on that.

E. ACCESS TO DOCUMENTS

When you are arrested, you (or your lawyer) have the right to access essential documents you need to challenge the arrest or detention. If your case goes to court you (or your lawyer) will have the right to access material evidence for or against you.

F. INFORMING SOMEONE ELSE ABOUT YOUR DETENTION / INFORMING YOUR CONSULATE OR EMBASSY

When you are arrested, tell the police if you want someone to be informed of the detention, for example a family member or your employer. In certain cases the right to inform other persons of your detention may be temporary limited. The police will be able to tell you.

If you are a foreigner, tell the police if you want your consular authority or embassy to be informed of the detention. Also tell the police if you want to contact an official of your consular authority or embassy.

G. URGENT MEDICAL ASSISTANCE

When you are arrested, you have the right to urgent medical assistance. Tell the police if you are in need of urgent medical care.

H. PERIOD OF DEPRIVATION OF LIBERTY

After your arrest you may be deprived of your liberty/detained for a maximum period of …. [fill in applicable number of hours/days]. At the end of this period you must either be released or be heard by a judge who will decide on your further detention. Ask your lawyer or the judge for information about possibilities to challenge the arrest, to review the detention or to ask for provisional release.

ANNEX II: Indicative model Letter of Rights for persons arrested on the basis of a European Arrest Warrant:

The sole purpose of this model is to present an illustration of a Letter of Rights with a view to helping the national authorities when preparing such Letter at national level. Member States are not bound to use this model. When preparing their Letter, they may amend this model to align it with their national applicable rules and add further useful information.

You have been arrested on the basis of a European Arrest Warrant. You have the following rights.

A. INFORMATION ABOUT THE EUROPEAN ARREST WARRANT

You have the right to be informed about the content of the European Arrest Warrant on the basis of which you have been arrested.

B. ASSISTANCE OF A LAWYER

You have the right to speak confidentially to a lawyer. A lawyer is independent from the police. Ask the police if you need help to get in contact with a lawyer, the police shall help you. In certain cases the assistance may be free of charge. Ask the police for more information.

C. INTERPRETATION AND TRANSLATION

If you do not speak or understand the language, you have the right to be assisted by an interpreter. This is free of charge. The interpreter may help you to talk to your lawyer and is required to keep the content of this communication confidential. You have the right to a translation of the European Arrest Warrant in a language you understand. You may in some circumstances be provided with an oral translation or summary.

D. POSSIBILITY TO CONSENT

You may consent or not consent to being surrendered to the State seeking you. Your consent would speed up the proceedings. [Possible addition of certain Member States: It may be difficult or even impossible to change this decision at a later stage.] Ask the authorities or your lawyer for more information.

E. HEARING

If you do not consent to your surrender, you have the right to be heard by a judicial authority.

Contacts:

Matthew Newman (+32 2 296 24 06)

Mina Andreeva (+32 2 299 13 82)


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