The European Parliament has approved the text of a new EU Directive to guarantee all suspects and accused persons the right to have a lawyer so that they are able to defend themselves and have a fair trial wherever they are in the EU.
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.
Under the directive, those subject to a European Arrest Warrant will have the right to appoint a lawyer in the state seeking extradition as well as their home country, which will help prevent miscarriages of justice in EAW cases. Authorities will have to provide to provide practical assistance to suspects in getting access to a lawyer, such as providing a list at police stations. Suspects will also be able to inform their family or a third party quickly of their arrest.
The UK government, which under EU treaties can pick and choose which justice measures to participate in, now has to decide whether to ‘opt in’ to this new law.
Lib Dem European justice & human rights spokeswoman and London MEP Sarah Ludford commented:
“This new measure is a major achievement serving to raise standards of justice and improve defendants’ rights in criminal proceedings across the EU. It sits alongside recently agreed law improving rights of victims, in which the UK participates.”
“It is true that the British citizens will be protected if they fall foul of the police in other EU states, even in the absence of a UK ‘opt-in’- But the leadership the UK undeniably holds on European justice and civil liberties will be dented by our absence from EU law on this matter.”
“I hope that the UK government will be able soon to confirm that the text is sufficiently accommodating of UK law and practice – which I worked hard to achieve – to allow UK participation. I look forward to a positive opt-in decision on advice from the Justice Secretary.”