The European Union's Policy on Criminal Procedure - European Union Committee Contents


Increasing mobility within the EU will have the inevitable consequence that more EU citizens will find themselves embroiled in the criminal justice system of another Member State, either as defendants or victims. This is likely to involve dealing with the consequences of traumatic events in a foreign language in the context of a very different legal system.

Until recently the EU has done little to protect the rights of defendants and victims caught up in crime with a cross-border dimension. This contrasts starkly with the measures adopted to facilitate cross-border law enforcement, notably the European Arrest Warrant. There is a widespread perception that the development of cross-border law enforcement measures has not been matched by balancing measures to ensure the rights of those defendants and victims involved. The Commission's 2004 attempt to introduce minimum rights for defendants stalled and EU victims legislation has proven ineffective. However the Lisbon Treaty has opened the way for this to be put right and two Roadmaps of planned legislation are now in place, for defendants and for victims.[1]

In this Report we take stock of the early Roadmap proposals and examine the potential benefit that they can, in principle, bring. We also examine the disadvantage of potential disruption to diverse and sensitive national criminal law systems—as illustrated by the controversial proposal for defendants' access to a lawyer at all stages of the investigative process.

We find that there is significant benefit to be gained from EU legislation setting minimum rights for defendants and victims, particularly for British citizens travelling within the EU who, on the whole, enjoy a high standard of rights at home. However, those minimum rights must be firmly grounded in international law norms, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, to minimise the risk of disrupting the UK criminal law systems.

Although the Commission is looking towards a more expansive EU criminal law policy we consider that the Roadmap legislation should be put in place and its impact assessed before moving forward any further.

In the light of these conclusions we encourage the Government to take a positive approach in principle to exercising the UK opt-in to Roadmap legislation. We draw attention to the decision which the Government will have to make by May 2014 on whether the UK opts out of the pre-Lisbon EU legislation, including the European Arrest Warrant.

1   The Roadmap for strengthening the procedural rights of those suspected or accused of criminal offences was adopted by the Council in November 2009; that for strengthening the rights and protection of victims was adopted by the Council in June 2011. Back

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