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JUSTICE : COMMISSION WANTS MORE SAFEGUARDS IN CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS.

"You have the right to remain silent. You also have the right to a lawyer": this line from a thousand movies will soon become a reality in all EU member states. As part of a package of directives (the latter, concerning access to a lawyer, has just been adopted by the EU) the Commission presented, on 27 November, complementary directives on suspects' rights during the early stages of proceedings. This imposing package comprises three draft directives from Parliament and Council, two recommendations to member states and a general communication.

The directives(1) aim to 1. strengthen the presumption of innocence and the right to be present at trial; 2. improveaspecial safeguards for children suspected or accused of a crime; and 3. ensure thatacitizens suspected or accused of a crime and for those subject to a European arrest warrant have access to legal aid at the early stages of criminal proceedings. The regulations concern various aspects of legal aid and procedural guarantees for vulnerable people. "These texts will provide rights and guarantees for European citizens, and finally show them what European justice means. This is a major step forward," said Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding.

MOST VULNERABLE CITIZENS

Firstly, the Commission will guarantee the presumption of innocence at EU level. Suspects cannot be considered guilty for deciding to remain silent, while national authorities must not make public statements that are damaging to suspects, or might influence the decision of a jury or a court. This is a significant step forward, sinceathe European Court of Human Rights has found that 11 member states (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Spain) have violated the principle of presumption of innocence between 2007 and 2012, and "this is only the tip of the iceberg, since a very small number of these cases even reach the Strasbourg court," said the Commission.

Next, according to the second draft text, member states must ensure that child suspects understand and can follow criminal proceedings in which they are involved. "This means that children cannot waive their right to be assisted by a lawyer, as there is a high risk that they would not understand the consequence of their actions if they were able to waive their rights," says the text. These young suspects must also be promptly informed about their rights; to be assisted by their parents (or other appropriate persons), not to be questioned in public hearings, to receive medical examination and to be kept separate from adult inmates if deprived of liberty. Finally, those who do not have sufficient means or are in prison and do not have a lawyer should benefit from state legal aid. However, according to the third draft directive, states can be reimbursed if it is later found that the suspect is not eligible for this aid.

The two recommendations aim to guide member states in applying procedural guarantees for vulnerable people, for example those suffering from physical or mental illnesses, as well as to help them determine whether a suspect has the right to legal aid.

Background

This new package of measures complements a set of three other EU laws agreed since 2010, regarding the right to translation and interpretation during criminal proceedings (2010), the right to information during criminal proceedings (2012) and the right to access a lawyer in criminal proceedings and proceedings relating to to the European arrest warrant, and on the right to communicate, when deprived of liberty, with third persons and with consular authorities (2013).

(1) The directives are available at ec.europa.eu/justice/newsroom/criminal/news/131127_en.htm
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Publication:European Report
Geographic Code:4EUBL
Date:Nov 28, 2013
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