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Stockholm's Sunset

New horizons for justice in Europe

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Executive Summary

As the sun sets on the Stockholm Programme, the significant achievements of the EU in relation to the protection of fair trial rights should be celebrated and the importance of continued work to make defence rights in Europe a reality should be emphasised. The past five years have witnessed a new approach to strengthening the area of justice, freedom and security, recognising the need to combine increased judicial cooperation in criminal matters with protection of the interests and needs of citizens whose lives have too frequently been destroyed by the injustices arising from the failure to respect the fundamental right to a fair trial.

Under the Roadmap for strengthening procedural rights of suspected or accused persons in criminal proceedings (the “Roadmap”), agreed as part of the Stockholm Programme, three directives addressing key aspects of the right to a fair trial – interpretation and translation, the right to information and the right to access a lawyer (the “Roadmap Directives”) – have been adopted, and three more are in the pipeline. The European Parliament (the “Parliament”) has demonstrated the importance of its role as co-legislator on criminal justice instruments, advocating strongly in favour of a robust approach to fundamental rights protection, not only through the negotiations of new legislation but also in calling for action on pre-trial detention and in reviewing the flagship mutual recognition measure – the European Arrest Warrant (the “EAW”). We now look to a future when the European Commission (the “Commission”), the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) and the national courts have increased responsibility for overseeing the protection of fair trial rights, helping individuals to uphold their rights during the course of national criminal proceedings, shifting responsibility upstream from the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”).

During its numerous meetings and activities over the past year, the Legal Experts Advisory Panel (“LEAP”) has identified the significant potential of the Roadmap Directives, as well as the challenges which remain in ensuring adequate protection of the right to a fair trial across the EU. This report brings together these key findings which can be summarised as follows:

  • Discussions with LEAP members from 23 Member States have shown that the rights covered by the three Roadmap Directives are frequently abused across Europe and these new measures could certainly be used to tackle injustice in individual cases and to challenge systemic causes of abuse but only if they are accurately transposed into national legislation and effectively implemented in practice.
  • Given the interdependent nature of the rights included in the Roadmap, each Roadmap Directive will not be fully realised without the adoption and implementation of other effective measures on legal aid, vulnerable suspects and the presumption of innocence, all of which have been identified through discussions with LEAP members as areas in which Member States would benefit from clear legislative guidance.
  • Meetings with LEAP members from 6 EU Member States (France, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and Spain) have shown how frequently suspects are routinely detained for minor offences or without proper consideration of the specific facts of the case, often for long periods and without adequate access to robust review mechanisms. The action taken by the EU to date to address concerns surrounding pre-trial detention has not been sufficient, with the result that excessive and unjustified pre-trial detention continues to be a significant cause for concern among criminal justice and human rights experts.
  • While it is vital that EU Member States work together to tackle crime, the EAW has resulted in avoidable cases of injustice and abuse to people surrendered by one EU country to another to face trial or serve a prison sentence. For many years, LEAP members have raised concerns about suspects being extradited to face trials for minor offences, to spend months in pre-trial detention or in cases when there is a real risk that their human rights will be breached, or being extradited to serve sentences imposed after trials involving serious violations of their fundamental rights. The EU institutions and individual Member States are now starting to recognise these concerns and the Parliament has now produced a report highlighting the key problems in the operation of the EAW and proposing legislative reforms to which the Commission must respond.

2014 represents an important moment for EU criminal justice policy. Not only will the Council of the European Union (the “Council”) agree the strategic guidelines for the next five years of justice and home affairs policy (the “Strategic Guidelines”), but a new Parliament and Commission will arrive to continue the important work started under the Stockholm Programme. To aid the EU institutions as they navigate this period of change, LEAP has identified the following six priorities for EU action over the next five years to continue raising standards of criminal justice in Europe:

  • Learn from the achievements under the Stockholm Programme: The EU should reflect on the achievements made in improving protection of fair trial rights over the past five years and allow these to inform decisions on priorities for the future which place individual rights at the heart of ever closer judicial cooperation.
  • Effective implementation of the Roadmap Directives: The EU must ensure that the Roadmap Directives are implemented and used effectively in Member States, and that the Commission takes enforcement proceedings against countries which fail to respect the crucial rights they protect.
  • Completion of the Roadmap: Given the interdependent nature of the rights set out in the Roadmap, the EU should continue its work on the remaining measures to which it has committed, and agree effective directives on legal aid, vulnerable suspects and the presumption of innocence.
  • Minimum standards on pre-trial detention: The EU must bring forward effective legal safeguards against the use of excessive and unjustified pre-trial detention in order to protect individuals and preserve the principle of mutual recognition based on mutual trust.
  • Reform of the European Arrest Warrant: The EU must deliver much-needed reforms to the EAW to ensure that extradition does not violate fundamental human rights and to ensure that its laws on defence rights provide a sound basis for mutual cooperation.
  • Continued work on defence rights: The need to improve respect for defence rights in practice, and to facilitate mutual trust and recognition between Member States, has grown no less urgent than it was when the Roadmap was first proposed in 2009. The EU must ensure that the protection of defence rights continues to be a key feature of the Strategic Guidelines for the next five years.

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Some activities in the following sections on this website are funded by the European Union’s Justice Programme (2014-2020): Legal Experts Advisory Panel, Defence Rights Map, Case Law Database, Advice Guides, Resources, Campaigns, Publications, News and Events. This content represents the views of the authors only and is their sole responsibility. It cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.