Rights of suspects and accused
The EU works towards achieving common minimum standards of procedural rights in criminal proceedings to ensure that the basic rights of suspects and accused persons are protected sufficiently.
Common minimum standards are necessary for judicial decisions taken by one EU country to be recognised by the others, according to the principle of mutual recognition.
For mutual recognition to operate well there must be measures promoting mutual trust. However the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) shows that violations of defence rights, as set out in Articles 5 and 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) do occur. Therefore, European measures such as the Framework Decision on the European Arrest Warrant have generated a demand for the EU to consider fundamental rights, especially the rights of the defence, in a more concrete way.
To develop this area of justice based on mutual recognition and mutual trust, the Commission was asked in the Stockholm Programme to submit proposals to strengthen the procedural rights of suspects or accused persons. This political mandate for a strong focus on strengthening citizens’ rights in criminal proceedings, to ensure the right to a fair trial across the European Union, resulted in the Commission’s Procedural Rights Agenda. The Commission was invited to submit proposals regarding a number of measures considered to be fundamental procedural rights.
To achieve such standards and create the basis for mutual trust, a Roadmap on procedural rights was adopted in 2009 by the Justice Council proposing five legislative measures on a 'step by step' basis:
- the right to interpretation and translation ;
- the right to information about rights (Letter of Rights);
- the right to legal advice, before and at trial and legal aid;
- the right for a detained person to communicate with family members, employers and consular authorities ;
- the right to protection for vulnerable suspects ;
- a Green Paper on pre-trial detention.
The Stockholm Programme also called on the Commission to examine further elements of minimum procedural rights for suspects or accused persons, and mentioned, in particular, the presumption of innocence.
The Commission works together with the Council and the European Parliament to implement the roadmap. Much progress has been made to date. The Directives DIR 2010/64/EU on interpretation and translation and DIR/2012/13/EU on the right to information were adopted on 20 October 2010 and on 22 May 2012 respectively. Then, in October 2013, a new Directive DIR/2013/48/EU was adopted which aims to ensure that minimum standards on the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings and on the right to communicate upon arrest are applied throughout the EU.
A Green Paper on the application of EU criminal justice legislation in the field of detention was launched in June 2011. The Commission received many replies to this green paper from Member States, authorities and several organisations.
In November 2013 the European Commission presented a package of proposals to further strengthen procedural safeguards for citizens in criminal proceedings. These proposals, on the presumption of innocence and the right to be present at trial, on special safeguards for children suspected and accused in criminal proceedings, and on provisional legal aid, aim to guarantee fair trial rights for all citizens, wherever they are in the EU. These proposals are accompanied by a communication and by two recommendations on safeguards for vulnerable persons suspected or accused in criminal proceedings, and on the right to legal aid in criminal proceedings.
When designing and implementing measures in this field, it is important for the EU to get the balance right between measures that protect such rights and those that facilitate the investigation and prosecution of crime.