The European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee have stated that anyone suspected or accused of having committed a crime must promptly be given information on his or her procedural rights in an easy-to-understand language, said the Civil Liberties Committee on Thursday, in amendments to a draft law to protect defendants’ rights across the EU. To those who are arrested or questioned at a police station, this information must be given in a written “Letter of Rights”, to which MEPs added inter alia the right to medical care and the right to contact relatives.
In a communiqué issued on the 17th March 2011 they stated
A Letter of Rights to help ensure fair trials in all EU countriesCitizens’ rights − 17-03-2011 – 18:32
Committee: Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
Anyone suspected or accused of having committed a crime must promptly be given information on his or her procedural rights in an easy-to-understand language, said the Civil Liberties Committee on Thursday, in amendments to a draft law to protect defendants’ rights across the EU. To those who are arrested or questioned at a police station, this information must be given in a written “Letter of Rights”, to which MEPs added inter alia the right to medical care and the right to contact relatives.
Over 8 million criminal trials take place in the EU every year. A citizen arrested and charged with a criminal offence in the EU cannot be certain that he or she will be properly informed of his or her rights. In some Member States, suspects receive only oral information about their procedural rights, whilst in others, information is provided in writing, but is technical, complex and provided only on request.
“Being aware of your rights is the first step to having them respected. Failure by public authorities to respect those rights will jeopardise the fairness of criminal proceedings and may lead to miscarriages of justice”, stressed Civil Liberties Committee rapporteur, Birgit Sippel (S&D, DE).
The proposed law would ensure that police and prosecutors provide suspects with basic information about their rights, such as the right to consult a lawyer or to have interpretation and translation if needed.
The authorities would be obliged to give anyone who is deprived of liberty, including undergoing questioning at a police station, or who is named in a European Arrest Warrant, written information about their rights in simple, everyday language – in the form of a Letter of Rights.
An indicative Letter of Rights
Given that the wording of Letters of Rights would have to be highly consistent throughout the EU, to make it easier for citizens to know their rights, the proposal includes a model (indicative) letter, in all official EU languages, “to be interpreted as containing the minimum of information Member States are obliged to give”, MEPs explain.
The committee amended the model letter to ensure that it is drafted in simple language and to include further rights, such as the right to medical care and the right to contact relatives.
The Letter of Rights for suspected and accused persons should include:
the right to an interpreter and to a translation of the documents, if the person does not understand the language,
any entitlement to legal advice,
the right to be informed of the conditions for obtaining it free of charge,
the right to be informed of the accusation, and
the right to remain silent.
In the event of deprivation of liberty, the arrested person will have the following additional rights
the right of access to the evidentiary material related to the case,
the right to contact relatives, employers and consular authorities,
the right to medical care,
the right to bail,
the right to be informed on how many hours/days the person may be deprived of liberty before being brought before a judicial authority,
the right to be informed on how he/she can challenge the arrest and how to obtain a review of the detention, including the time limits for doing so provided under national law, and
the right to be informed on the maximum period of pre-trial detention applicable to his/her case.
To ensure that the right to information is in fact granted, the draft law provides that a procedure must be put in place for assessing whether the suspected or accused person has received the information and that an effective remedy is in place in the event that he/she has not.
Right of access to evidentiary material
Evidentiary material related to the case, which is relevant for determining the lawfulness of the arrest or detention, must be made available to the arrested person or his or her lawyer, MEPs insisted. This material may be refused only “exceptionally”, on the basis of a “reasoned decision by a competent judicial authority”, where providing access to it may lead to serious risk to the life or fundamental rights of another person or may seriously harm the internal security of the Member State.
In any event, effective remedies should be in place to enable the arrested person or his or her lawyer to challenge, before an impartial tribunal, any decision to deny them access to evidentiary material related to the case, say MEPs.
This directive should apply to suspected and accused person on EU territory “regardless of their legal status, citizenship or nationality”, MEPs add.
Parliament and Council representatives will begin negotiating an agreement soon, probably before the end of March. Along with the directive on the right to translation and interpretation, adopted last year, the directive on the right to information in criminal proceedings is one in a series of fair trial measures that aims to boost confidence in the EU’s single area of justice.
Committee vote: 49 in favour, 3 against
In the chair: Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES)REF. : 20110314IPR15481 [17th March 2011]