Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship
Towards a Green Paper on detention in the European Union – strengthening mutual trust in the European judicial area
High-level round-table conference on detention conditions in the European Union
Brussels, 25 January 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen
Welcome to this round-table conference on detention conditions in the European Union.
I am particularly grateful to welcome you to the Berlaymont as we celebrate this Commission's first year in office. This has been a full year for the European Union especially for its work in the consolidation of the European judicial area. Last year we accomplished a great deal in the field of justice and most specifically in the area of criminal law. The European Union was able to agree on the first ever criminal law Directive setting minimum standards on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings. We also made tangible progress on the Directive on the right to information – the so-called ‘letter of rights’ – strengthening the rights of the accused concerning their rights and the charges against them.
These are strong, deft and much needed instruments that impact the lives of our citizens and contribute to raising procedural rights standards and making those rights available throughout the European Union.
The Union is finally breaking the deadlock on procedural rights and laying the foundations for a European judicial area based on mutual trust between our judicial systems.
These accomplishments, made possible by the avenues opened by the Lisbon Treaty, should strengthen our resolve in pursuing the implementation of our European procedural rights agenda.
That is why this year I will propose a further two Directives: in the summer I will propose a Directive on the right to access to a lawyer and at the end of the year I will propose a Directive on the right of those arrested to communicate with their families and consular authorities.
In addition to these Directives, and in line with the invitation made by the European Council in the Stockholm Programme, the Commission will look into the issue of detention and in particular pre-trial detention in the European Union. The aim of our work should be made clear from the outset: we need to strengthen mutual knowledge about our systems and reinforce mutual trust to ensure an effective application of the principle of mutual recognition.
Since taking up office as EU Justice Commissioner a year ago I have been given evidence by Members of the European Parliament, NGO’s, lawyers and members of the public about specific cases where citizens, and in particular non-residents, were served a European Arrest Warrant only to find themselves in long pre-trial detention procedures.
I was also given specific evidence that in an increasing number of European Arrest Warrant cases, extradition is contested on the grounds that detention conditions in the issuing state are not perceived as conforming to European standards set by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights.
We all agree that without mutual confidence in the area of detention, instruments such as the European Arrest Warrant, the European Evidence Warrant, the European Supervision Order or the Framework Decision on the transfer of prisoners will not work. But in what way can we improve mutual confidence and making the principle of mutual recognition effective?
The time a person can spend in detention waiting for his day in court varies widely amongst our Member States. Excessively long periods of pre-trial detention are detrimental for the individual and do not represent the values for which the European Union stands.
This is reason why the Commission will publish a Green Paper in 2011 to explore possibilities in this area including alternatives to imprisonment.
In all our judicial systems pre-trial detention is a measure of an exceptional nature. It is to be applied only when all other measures are judged to be insufficient. In some European systems pre-trial detention is even set by a constitutional norm revealing a bias in favour of liberty in line with the presumption of innocence. This limits the circumstances under which pre-trial detention is authorised and establishes specific criteria and procedures for its use. For example, it should only apply after the court determines that defendants pose a substantial risk of flight, or a threat to the safety of the community, victims or witnesses. The status of detained defendants should, however, be monitored in all cases and their eligibility for release reviewed throughout the adjudication period. The cases of detained defendants should be given priority in scheduling for trial.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The implementation of our mutual recognition-based instruments should acknowledge these principles which are generally common to all our systems.
The Lisbon Treaty has an important impact in the field of criminal law; it makes mutual recognition of judicial decisions a cornerstone principle and it equips the Union with the tools to facilitate the implementation of such a principle. To that end, we need to ensure that the European Union area of justice, freedom and security benefits all citizens, including those suspected or accused of a crime as well as victims of crime.
This is why we have developed a clear agenda to strengthen procedural rights in Europe and why we are also preparing a comprehensive package of measures on the rights, support and protection of victims, as victims are often the forgotten party in criminal proceedings.
I see today's meeting as part of that process, as an important contribution towards a stronger area of freedom, security and justice with respect for fundamental rights and the different legal systems and traditions of the Member States.
I hope you will give us strong input to our Green Paper. I welcome most of all your insights on how EU action can add value to the existing international instruments and monitoring mechanisms that deal with the issue of detention. Our aim must be to improve detention conditions as a means of enhancing mutual trust between Member States. I wish you good luck with your discussions and thank you for your commitment to our European agenda.