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Brussels, 28 May 2013
Commission welcomes breakthrough on its proposal to guarantee citizens’ rights to access a lawyer and on the right to communicate upon arrest
A European Commission proposal to guarantee the rights of all citizens to be advised by a lawyer when facing criminal proceedings moved a step closer to agreement today, after a breakthrough in negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The draft law would mean all suspects – no matter where they are in the European Union – would be guaranteed the right to be advised by a lawyer from the earliest stages of proceedings until their conclusion. Where a suspect is arrested the new rules would ensure that the person has the opportunity to communicate with their family. If they are outside of their country, they would have the right to be in contact with their country’s consulate.
"Today’s breakthrough in negotiations is a breakthrough for citizens’ rights in the European Union," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU's Justice Commissioner. “This is the third proposal from the European Commission to guarantee fair trial rights for people everywhere in the EU, whether they are at home or abroad: Commission is delivering on its promises to strengthen citizens’ rights everyone in Europe. I applaud the work of the Rapporteur Ms Oana Antonescu and of Minister Alan Shatter of the Irish Presidency for today's breakthrough. I count on the European Parliament and Council to continue their good work so that this proposal swiftly follows the others onto the European statute book.”
Today’s breakthrough came in a so-called trilogue meeting between the Commission and the EU’s two co-legislators (the European Parliament and the Council). It is the third in a series of Directives to guarantee fair trial rights for citizens, wherever they are in Europe (IP/11/689). The Directive is one of the key actions to improve citizens’ lives in the Commission’s 2010 EU Citizenship Report.
Next steps: The text will now pass back to the co-legislators (Parliament and Council) for formal adoption in the coming months. Discussions are scheduled at the meeting of EU Justice Ministers (Justice Council) on 6 June.
Access to a lawyer rights are essential for building confidence in the European Union’s single area of justice, especially when suspects are arrested as a result of a European Arrest Warrant (IP/11/454). The proposed right of access to a lawyer is the third Directive in a series of proposals to guarantee minimum rights to a fair trial anywhere in the European Union. The others are the right to translation and interpretation (see IP/10/1305 and MEMO/10/351) and the right to information in criminal proceedings (see IP/12/575). These measures aim to establish clear rights across the EU and safeguard people's fundamental rights to a fair trial and the right of defence. The proposals need approval by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers before becoming law.
There are over 8 million criminal proceedings in the European Union every year. The right of defence for anyone suspected of a crime is widely recognised as a basic element of a fair trial. But the conditions under which suspects can consult a lawyer differ between Member States. For example, the person accused of a crime may not be able to see a lawyer during police questioning. The confidentiality of their contacts with their laywer might not be respected. And people sought under a European Arrest Warrant may not currently have the benefit of a lawyer in the country where the warrant has been issued until they are surrendered to that country.
There are similar divergences in terms of the right of suspects to let a relative, employer and their consulate know when they have been arrested. Individuals may not systematically be offered this right, may only receive it at a late stage in the process, or may not be informed once their family has been contacted.
The Directive will guarantee these rights in practice, by:
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 (ECHR). The right to communicate with a third party is one of the important safeguards against ill treatment prohibited by Article 3 of the ECHR.
For more information
European Commission – fair trial rights
Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner:
Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU