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Letter of rights for criminal suspects - 22/07/2010

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Commission introduces legislation requiring EU countries to inform suspects of their rights in writing on arrest. The proposal follows recent legislation entitling suspects to translation and interpretation services.

Part of an effort to set EU-wide standards for criminal proceedings, the draft law proposed this week would require the statement to be written in simple everyday language, and translated if need be.

Twelve EU countries already use these so-called letters of rights. Others only provide information orally or in a written form that people who are not legal professionals may find hard to understand. Many countries don’t supply the information unless the suspect asks for it.

The proposal includes a sample statement in 22 EU languages. Countries are free, however, to choose the exact wording themselves.

Justice commissioner Viviane Reding says the law would ensure that “everybody, everywhere in the EU is made aware of their rights.” In particular, it would give Europeans more peace of mind when they travel abroad.

Hundreds of thousands of EU citizens cross national borders every day. Some 47% of Germans, 34% of British and 16% of Italians holiday in other EU countries.

The draft law is just the second step in a planned series of proposals aimed at setting common EU standards for criminal proceedings.

More than 8 million criminal proceedings take place in the EU every year. EU treaties set out which rights suspects are entitled to, but until now countries have been free to decide how to uphold them.

Over the next few years the EU plans to build a comprehensive body of law, exercising new powers under the Lisbon treaty. As a result of the treaty, the EU can now adopt measures to improve and strengthen individual rights.

Earlier this year, the commission introduced legislation obliging EU countries to provide translation and interpretation services for suspects. That bill is now well on the way to becoming law.

Two proposals in the pipeline for next year concern the right to a lawyer and to speak with relatives, employers and consular officials.

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