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Brussels, 7 April 2014
Innocent until proven guilty: 'Yes', says European Parliament
The European Parliament's Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) has today backed the European Commission's proposal to guarantee respect for the presumption of innocence (IP/13/1157, MEMO/13/1046). The Committee voted by 13 in favour of an opinion backing the proposal (to 0 votes against and 0 abstentions).
Welcoming the vote, Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner said: "The Commission and the European Parliament are joining forces to deliver stronger rights for Europe's 507 million citizens. Today's vote paves the way towards putting in place a series of procedural rights which will apply to all citizens who are caught in criminal proceedings, throughout the European Union. We are building a true European area of justice. This proposal will make sure that the core principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is made effective across the EU. Citizens should expect a similar level of protection when they travel in Europe as they find at home. It is now up to Justice Ministers to advance this proposal so it can swiftly become law."
The proposal aims to guarantee respect for the presumption of innocence of all citizens suspected or accused by police and judicial authorities, and the right to be present at trial. It will in particular guarantee that (1) guilt cannot be inferred by any official decisions or statements before a final conviction; (2) the burden of proof is placed on the prosecution and any doubt benefits the suspect or accused person; (3) the right to remain silent is guaranteed and not used against suspects to secure conviction; and (4) the accused has the right to be present at the trial.
The proposal is part of a package of measures to further strengthen safeguards for citizens in criminal proceedings (MEMO/13/1046). The other proposals in the package aim to make sure children have special safeguards when facing criminal proceedings and guarantee access of suspects and accused to provisional legal aid at the early stages of proceedings and especially for people subject to a European Arrest Warrant.
Next steps: Following today’s opinion by the Legal Affairs Committee, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) will adopt its report on the proposal in the coming weeks. The proposal will then be voted on by the European Parliament in plenary session.
There are over 9 million criminal proceedings in the European Union every year. On 9 March 2010, the European Commission made the first step in a series of measures to set common EU standards in all criminal proceedings. The Commission proposed rules that would oblige EU countries to provide full interpretation and translation services to suspects (IP/10/249, MEMO/10/70). The proposal was adopted in a record time of nine months by the European Parliament and the Council and Member States have had three years to adopt these rules, rather than the usual two years, to give authorities time to put translated information in place (IP/13/995).
The law was followed by a second Directive on the right to information in criminal proceedings, adopted in 2012 (IP/12/575), and then by a third Directive on the right to access to a lawyer and on the right to communicate, when deprived of liberty, with family members and with consular authorities, adopted in 2013 (IP/13/921).
On 27 November 2013 the Commission proposed a package of measures to complete fair trial rights in criminal proceedings (SPEECH/13/986). The package consisted of a proposal for a Directive to strengthen the presumption of innocence and the right to be present at trial; a proposal for Directive on special safeguards for children; a proposal for a Directive on the right to provisional legal aid; a Recommendation on procedural safeguards for vulnerable people; and a Recommendation on the right to legal aid.
Without minimum common standards to ensure fair proceedings, judicial authorities will be reluctant to trust in each other's judicial systems and decisions and thus 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.
For more information
Delivering stronger procedural rights across the Union:
European Commission – Criminal law policy:
Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner:
Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU
Follow EU Justice on Twitter: @EU_Justice