European Union Adopts Law Securing Access to a Lawyer for Criminal Suspects

Press Release: European Union Adopts Law Securing Access to a Lawyer for Criminal Suspects

7th October 2013

The European Union has today formally adopted a Directive which will guarantee people facing criminal proceedings in the EU the right to the effective assistance of a lawyer, from the time of arrest through to the conclusion of their case. This is the third in a series of Directives protecting the basic procedural rights of people facing criminal prosecution in the EU, following laws on interpretation and translation and on the right to information in criminal proceedings.

Fair Trials International’s Chief Executive, Jago Russell, said:

“Fair Trials International is delighted that a Directive on the Right of Access to a Lawyer has finally been adopted, nearly 10 years after the EU’s first attempts to introduce this vital protection. Our work with people arrested across Europe, and with our Europe-wide legal networks, have consistently shown the need for the EU to act to improve respect for basic defence rights.”

Fair Trials International has long campaigned for effective EU-wide guarantees of basic procedural rights. Effective access to a lawyer has consistently been highlighted as a priority for EU action by the charity’s Legal Experts Advisory Panel, comprising over 100 experts in criminal justice and human rights from 27 EU Member States. The charity’s work on hundreds of cases in Europe each year (helping people to understand and exercise their fair trial rights) has shown that effective access to a lawyer, a critical prerequisite to obtaining a fair trial, is not currently assured in every European Member State.

For more information please contact Fair Trials International on +44 (0)20 7822 2370 or +44 (0)7950 849 851

Notes to Editors

1.       The Directive: The Directive on the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings and on the right to communicate upon arrest provides a number of important protections, including allowing lawyers to play an active role during questioning and, for people subject to a European Arrest Warrant, a right to legal assistance in the arresting country and the country where the Warrant was issued. The Directive will also give suspects the right to inform family members of their arrest and will give non-national defendants the right to contact their consulate. To allow Member States to take the action needed to transpose the Directive, it will only come into force after two years.

2.     Fair Trials International’s work for EU-wide defence rights: Fair Trials International has long campaigned for legislation at EU level on basic defence rights. We use the real-life experiences of the people we assist to show the need for these measures. For more information on our Justice in Europe campaign, click here. In October 2012 Fair Trials launched an in-depth report and interactive map, charting the state of Justice in Europe.  In April 2013, Fair Trials International, along with national and international NGOs working on justice and human rights published a joint statement advocating the need for the Directive to uphold and develop existing international human rights standards in this area. In July 2013, we wrote again to encourage the EU to fully implement the adopted Directives and to make progress on forthcoming measures on Legal Aid, Vulnerable Suspects, and Pre-trial Detention.

3.     Defence rights – why the EU must protect them: The right to a fair trial and defence are set out in Articles 47 and 48 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Under Article 82(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the EU can adopt measures to strengthen the rights of EU citizens to facilitate the mutual recognition of judicial decisions and improve police and judicial cooperation on criminal matters having a cross-border nature. European Member States today cooperate more than ever before in justice matters. This means they must be able to trust in the fairness of each other’s justice systems; equally, people facing charges in Europe must be confident they will be treated fairly, wherever they are charged.

4.   Other defence rights under the Stockholm Programme: The “Stockholm Programme” is the five year legislative programme for EU Justice and Home Affairs, adopted in December 2009. It provides the basis for EU legislation on justice matters between 2010 and 2014 and sets out the Procedural Rights Roadmap, which promises a series of Directives, each dealing with different aspects of the right to a fair trial. The first law under the Roadmap, guaranteeing the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings, was passed in 2010 and must be implemented into the law of all Member States by October 2013. The second Directive, adopted in May 2012, will ensure that suspects are provided with certain information during criminal proceedings, including a ‘Letter of Rights’ on arrest and access to the case file to help them prepare an effective defence. To read our briefings and case studies showing why Europe must act to protect these rights, click here.

5.    Future priorities: The Roadmap also promised legislation to ensure that legal aid is granted to those who cannot afford to pay for their lawyer. This will be a vital counterpart to the new Directive as, without adequate access to legal aid, the right of access to a lawyer is unlikely to make a significant difference in practice for many involved in criminal proceedings. Fair Trials International has highlighted the problems with the practical operation of legal aid in the EU in a report which you can read here. We are expecting the European Commission to publish a proposal in this area later this year. A measure is also expected on special protections for vulnerable suspects and the presumption of innocence. Fair Trials International is also calling for EU-wide standards to protect against unjustified pre-trial detention. Click here for more information on our pre-trial detention work.


About this entry