Friday, October 08, 2010

European Union Fair Trial Rights: EU Justice Ministers Approve a Law to Guarantee Translation and Interpretation Rights in Criminal Proceedings in All EU Courts

Several egregious miscarriages of justice have occurred in the past in the European Union (EU) because criminally accused persons have been criminally tried without knowing the language of the accusing EU Member State. A landmark precedential development on fair trial rights in criminal proceedings in the EU is thus in the make to solve this problem.

Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, at her EU website on the topic of Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, writes that the European Union Justice Ministers have approved an EU law which ensures translation and interpretation rights in criminal proceedings in ALL European Union courts, and this includes RECEIVING LEGAL ADVICE:
"EU justice ministers approved a law today that ensures translation and interpretation rights in criminal proceedings, following backing from the European Parliament earlier this year. The law guarantees the right of suspects to obtain interpretation in their own language throughout criminal proceedings in all courts in the EU, including when receiving legal advice. 'This is an important step towards better and stronger justice in Europe,' said Vice-President Viviane Reding, calling on lawmakers to accelerate their work on the Commission’s second measure, the letter of rights, which was proposed in July."
See also Catherine Heard and Daniel Mansell at EUobserver in [Comment] EU starting to wake up to lacking defence rights who discuss the background of issues leading to this law, starting with:
"How do 27 countries, all with their own distinct legal systems, juggle the competing demands of combating cross-border crime while safeguarding the free movement and other fundamental rights of those on their territory? This is the question the EU has been attempting to answer for the last ten years."
See the respective Press Release Fair trial rights: EU Justice Ministers approve law ensuring translation and interpretation rights in criminal proceedings which is abstracted as follows:
"European Union Justice Ministers approved a law that ensures translation and interpretation rights in criminal proceedings. The European Commission and the European Parliament backed the law earlier this year (IP/10/746). It is the first ever EU measure setting common minimum standards for the rights of the defence in criminal matters. The law guarantees the right of suspects to obtain interpretation throughout criminal proceedings, including when receiving legal advice, in their own language in all courts in the EU. This is a long overdue first measure to ensure a fair trial for everyone throughout the entire EU. The law is the first of a series of fair trial measures to set common EU standards in criminal cases. EU Member States now have three years to put the measure into their national laws."
See the Justice and Home Affairs Council Memo Justice and Home Affairs Council: 7-8 October 2010 in Luxembourg which contained inter alia the following text in discussing how and what needs to be done to ensure fair trial rights in the EU:
"1. Ensuring fair trial rights in the EU

Procedural safeguards represent a top priority in the justice area for the next five years. Minimum standards for the rights of defendants in criminal proceedings are indispensable to promote real mutual trust between citizens and the judicial authorities of different Member States, without which mutual recognition may never work properly.

What is expected at this Council? The right to interpretation and translation is expected to enter into force less than a year after first being proposed. The European Parliament backed the Directive in June. (IP/10/746)

The Council is expected to formally adopt legislation to help people exercise their fair trial rights anywhere in the EU when they cannot understand the language of the case.

Commission position: The Commission welcomes the adoption of the Directive, the first step in a series of measures to set common EU standards in criminal cases. The law guarantees the right of suspects to be informed about evidence used and receive legal advice in their own language in criminal proceedings in all courts in the EU. The Commission is keen to ensure that common minimum standards exist in all EU Member States for defendants. These standards should be fully compliant with the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Meanwhile, the Commission will present its proposal for the right to information in criminal proceedings, which was proposed in July (IP/10/989). The proposal, if adopted by the European Parliament and EU Ministers of Justice, will help to avoid miscarriages of justice and reduce the number of appeals. Authorities prosecuting the case will have to ensure that suspects are given information about their rights. When someone is arrested, they will be given this information in writing – in a Letter of Rights – drafted in simple, everyday language. It will be provided to the suspect upon arrest in all cases, whether he asks for it or not, and translated if necessary.

Background: The Commission has been committed to common EU standards in relation to criminal proceedings for many years and has been working on EU legislation with a step-by-step approach. These measures will allow the Commission to develop a truly common and ambitious EU framework on the level of protection and fair trial rights."

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