Criminal Procedure: The European Commission informs the accused of his fundamental rights

Suspects on the territory of the European Union will now receive a “declaration of rights.”

The European Commission proposed the measure in July 2010 (IP/10/989) as part of its efforts to ensure people have a right to a fair trial throughout the EU. It is the second step in a series of measures to set common EU standards in criminal cases. The measure is part of the Commission’s efforts to bolster fair trial rights EU-wide and improve mutual trust amongst judicial authorities. Following the Parliament’s endorsement, the measure will now pass to ministers for final adoption by the Council in the coming weeks before becoming law.

The new law will make sure any suspects of a criminal offence receive adequate information about their basic rights during criminal proceedings. These are the right to a lawyer; to be informed of the charge; to interpretation and translation for those who do not understand the language of the proceedings; the right to remain silent and to be brought promptly before a court following arrest.

In particular, the law includes five innovations:

- Suspects will be informed of their rights following the arrest;
- They will be given a ‘letter of rights’ spelling out their rights in writing;
- The letter of rights will be easy to understand, without legal jargon;
- It will be made available in a language the suspect understands;
- It will contain practical details about the person’s rights.
This law will also contain important innovations aimed at strengthening the application of the European Arrest Warrant notably by ensuring that any person arrested and subject to a European Arrest Warrant promptly receives an appropriate ‘letter of rights’ (IP/11454).

The Commission has provided Member States with a model letter, which will be translated in all 23 EU languages.

Along with the right to translation and interpretation, the right to information in criminal proceedings is part of a series of fair trial measures that aims to boost confidence in the EU’s single area of justice.

The European Parliament and Council approved the first proposal, which gave suspects the right to translation and interpretation (IP/10/1305 and MEMO/10/351), in October 2010.

In June 2011, the Commission put forward a third measure to guarantee access to a lawyer and to communicate with relatives (IP/11/689). The proposal is currently under discussion in the European Parliament and Council.

There are over 8 million criminal proceedings in the EU every year. At the moment, the chance that citizens will be properly informed of their rights if they are arrested and face criminal charges varies across the EU. In some Member States, suspects only receive oral information about their procedural rights, and in others the written information is not given unless demanded.

Under Article 82(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and with a view to facilitate the mutual recognition of judicial decisions and improve police and judicial cooperation on criminal matters having a cross border nature, the EU can adopt measures to strengthen the rights of EU citizens, in line with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The right to a fair trial and defence are set out in Articles 47 and 48 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights; as well as in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

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