European Parliament approves new proposals on citizen's rights

The European Parliament, in its plenary session in Strasbourg today,  has approved a European Commission plan to allow 14 EU countries to implement rules giving international couples the ability to agree on which law would apply to their divorce. Furthermore, it has backed Commission proposal for stronger rights in criminal proceedings

These two issues were studied by ministers of Justice and Home Affairs in the last meeting of this council in Luxembourg.

The divorce proposal aims to lessen the burden on children and to protect weaker partners during divorce disputes. The need for EU action is clear: There were more than 1 million divorces in the 27 EU Member States in 2007, of which 140 000 (13 %) had an "international" element.

The package has two parts: first, a proposal for a Council Decision that authorises enhanced cooperation for the 14 EU Member States (which was agreed on 4 June); second, an EU Regulation with the actual measures that would apply in participating countries. The Council will discuss the second measure in the next few months.

Translation and interpretation rights in criminal proceedings

The compromise to strenghten citizens rights in criminal proceedings integrates the main points from the Commission's proposal. For example, the proposals will guarantee the right to be informed and receive legal advice in their own language during any part of a criminal proceeding, in all courts in the EU. The Commission insisted on this detail as crucial to 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.

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

The draft Directive will now have to be voted by the Council of Ministers as part of the ordinary legislative procedure (co-decision) introduced by the Lisbon Treaty for criminal justice matters.