EU ensures higher procedural safeguards in criminal proceedings

European Union Justice Ministers have approved a law which ensures translation and interpretation rights in criminal proceedings. 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.

The measures adopted by Justice Ministers will guarantee procedural safeguards for the accused in a criminal proceeding by ensuring the right of citizens to be interviewed, to take part in hearings and to receive legal advice in their own language during any part of a criminal proceeding, in all courts in the EU. These rules will ensure full compliance with the standards provided by the European Convention on Human Rights and the case law of the Strasbourg Court, as well as with the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

They will ensure citizens are provided with written translation of all essential documents, such as the charge sheet, and will be entitled to interpretation of all hearings and questioning as well as during meetings with their lawyers. Their rights cannot be waived without first receiving legal advice or full information of the consequences of waiving their rights.

Translation and interpretation costs will have to be met by the Member State, not by the suspect. Without minimum common standards to ensure fair proceedings, judicial authorities will be reluctant to send someone to face trial in another country. In the Commission's view, all such warrants should in the future be covered by EU standards on fair trial rights, including the right to interpretation and translation.

EU Member States have three years to adopt these rules, rather than the usual two years, to give authorities time to put translated information in place.

The right to fair proceedings and respect to procedural safeguards in the EU

The European Commission already tried to put in place in 2004 an "all in one" proposal on fair trial procedural rights which did not receive the unanimous support of EU governments . For that reason, Commission is now taking a "step by step" approach, as foreseen in a series of measures on fair trial procedural rights set out in the Stockholm Programme of December 2009.

In March 2009, the Commission proposed rules that would oblige EU countries to provide full interpretation and translation services to suspects. Once put forward, a compromise agreement was  reached between the Council, Commission and the European Parliament on 27 May. This compromise agreements was endorsed by the European Parliament plenary on 15 June.

Further to it the Commission proposed the second measure, regarding the right to information, in July, where Council and Parliament have already started work on. The next measures, planned by the Commission for 2011, will be a Directive on the right to have access to a lawyer and on the right to communicate with relatives, employers and consular authorities.