Announcing the proposals the EU's Justice Commissioner Vice-President Viviane Reding said:
"Fair trial rights are essential for citizens' confidence in the justice system. Today’s measure will strengthen mutual trust between our justice systems by ensuring that suspects are treated with the same, minimum fair standards across the European Union."
The Commission's proposal would guarantee:
access to a lawyer from the first stage of police questioning and throughout criminal proceedings;
- adequate, confidential meetings with the lawyer for the suspect to effectively exercise their defence rights;
- allow the lawyer to play an active role during interrogations and to check detention conditions;
- make sure that the suspect is able to communicate with at least one family member or employer informing them of the arrest and custody;
- allow suspects abroad to contact their country's embassy or consulate and receive visits;
- offer people subject to a European Arrest Warrant the possibility of legal advice in both the country where the arrest is carried out and the one where it was issued.
The right of access to a lawyer is the third directive in a series of proposals to guarantee minimum rights to a fair trial anywhere in the European Union. The others are the right to translation and interpretation (IP/10/1305 / MEMO/10/351) and the right to information in criminal proceedings (IP/10/1652).
The measures establish clear rights across the EU and safeguard people's fundamental rights to a fair trial and the right of defence.
The proposals need approval by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers before becoming law.
The right of defence for anyone suspected of a crime is widely recognised as a basic element of a fair trial. But the conditions under which suspects can consult a lawyer differ between member states. For example, the person accused of a crime may not be able to see a lawyer during police questioning. Evidence obtained without the presence of a lawyer has a different status from one country to another. And people sought under a European Arrest Warrant may not currently have access to a lawyer in the country where the warrant has been issued until they are surrendered to that country.
There are similar divergences in terms of the right of suspects to let a relative or employer know when they have been arrested. Individuals may not systematically be offered this right, may only receive it at a late stage in the process, or may not be informed once their family has been contacted.