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Ensuring fair trials: clearer EU-wide rules on access to a lawyer


Source: European Parliament

Suspects or accused persons will be entitled to access to a lawyer before the start of any questioning by the police and throughout criminal proceedings wherever they are in the EU, under a deal struck by Parliament and Council negotiators on 28 May and endorsed by the Civil Liberties Committee on Wednesday.

Although the right of defence for anyone suspected of a crime is widely recognised as a basic element of a fair trial, the conditions under which suspects may consult a lawyer differ among member states. The draft directive sets out EU-wide minimum rules on the right of access to a lawyer for suspects and accused persons and on the right of people in detention to communicate with a person of their choice, such as a relative, employer or consular authority.

"Today's vote represents an important step in strengthening the procedural rights of suspected or accused persons in criminal proceedings. The directive will ensure that they have appropriate access to a lawyer. It will also improve judicial cooperation in the EU by enhancing mutual trust between EU countries and ensuring a high level of protection of fundamental rights. This directive is a remarkable achievement that will improve the lives of thousands of EU citizens", said rapporteur Elena Antonescu (EPP, RO).

No questioning without a lawyer

Suspects or accused persons would have a right of access to a lawyer before they are questioned by the police and without undue delay from the time of deprivation of liberty. This right must also apply throughout criminal proceedings. The new rules also allow lawyers to participate effectively during the questioning and attend certain investigative or evidence-gathering acts, such as identity parades and experimental reconstructions of the crime scene.

Confidentiality of communications

Member states must respect the confidentiality of meetings and other forms of communication between the suspect or accused person and his or her lawyer "without derogation" (exception), says the compromise text.

Right to contact relatives or a consulate

The new rules would ensure that when a person is arrested, he/she has the right to communicate with a person of his/her choice, such as a family member, partner or employer. If outside his or her home country, the arrested person would have the right to contact that country's local consulate.

European Arrest Warrant

Persons subject to a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) would have the right of access to a lawyer both in the executing and in the issuing member state. Currently, they may not have access to a lawyer in the country where the warrant has been issued until they are surrendered to that country.

Next steps

The compromise text is expected to be voted by the full House after the summer break and to be formally adopted by the Council shortly thereafter. Once adopted, member states will have three years to transpose the directive into national law.

  • Geographical area: Europe