Right to information
Suspects or persons accused of a criminal offence need to be informed promptly of their rights in criminal proceedings. Such information should be given orally or in writing, in simple and accessible language. They also need to be informed about the accusation against them and should be granted timely access to the case materials.
A Directive on the right to information in criminal proceedings was adopted in 2012. This Directive aims at providing minimum standards throughout the EU with a view to enhancing mutual trust and mutual cooperation among Member States. The deadline for transposition by Member States expires on 2 June 2014.
In line with the requirements of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) as interpreted in the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), it requires EU Member States to put in place the following minimum rules:
Information about procedural rights
Suspects or accused persons must be informed – orally or in writing – about the following minimum procedural rights in order to allow for those rights to be exercised effectively:
- the right of access to a lawyer;
- any entitlement to free legal advice;
- to right to be informed about the accusation;
- the right to interpretation and translation for those who do not understand the language of the proceedings;
- the right to remain silent.
Such information should be provided in a simple and accessible language, taking into account any particular needs of vulnerable suspects or vulnerable accused persons.
Arrested persons must be informed of their procedural rights in writing, through a document drafted in easily comprehensible language, whether they ask for it or not. In addition to the rights mentioned above, this so-called "Letter of Rights" will contain information on:
- the right to access to case materials;
- the right to have consular authorities and one person informed (such as a family member or employer);
- the right of access to urgent medical assistance;
- the right to know the maximum hours or days suspects or accused persons may be deprived of liberty before being brought before a judicial authority;
- the possibility to challenge the lawfulness of the arrest.
EU countries are free to draw up their own Letters of Rights in an appropriate range of languages as long as they include accurate information about these core fair trial rights.
As it is desirable that there is a high level of consistency in the information in the Letters of Rights throughout the EU, the proposal contains an indicative model in all official EU languages which is meant to help EU countries to design their Letters of Rights.
Information about the accusation
Suspects or accused persons should be informed promptly about the criminal act they are suspected or accused of having committed. Arrested persons should be informed about the reasons for their arrest. Such information should be complemented at a later stage with more details.
Access to documents and case material
In order to safeguard the fairness of proceedings and to allow suspects or accused persons to prepare their defence, they must be given access to documents and material evidence in the case-file held by the competent authorities.
This Directive was adopted following the 2009 Roadmap for strengthening procedural rights which included a measure on the right to information.