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Procedure : 2010/0215(COD)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0408/2011

Texts tabled :

A7-0408/2011

Debates :

PV 12/12/2011 - 17
CRE 12/12/2011 - 17

Votes :

PV 13/12/2011 - 6.5
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2011)0551

Debates
Monday, 12 December 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

17. Right to information in criminal proceedings (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. - The next item is the report by Birgit Sippel, on behalf of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the right to information in criminal proceedings (COM(2010)0392 – C7-0189/2010 – 2010/0215(COD)) (A7-0408/2011).

 
  
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  Birgit Sippel , rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner Reding, ladies and gentlemen, in the current times it is more important than ever to keep repeating that the European Union is more than just a market. It is a community of values, and it is precisely in difficult times that it must prove itself to be a strong community of values in all policy areas.

The EU and its Member States are based on the common principles of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. An indispensable element of the rule of law in the context of criminal proceedings is the presumption of innocence, supported by clear and comprehensive procedural rights for the accused persons. Following the directive on the right to interpretation and to translation, the new directive on the right to information in criminal proceedings is a further important cornerstone in ensuring that suspected and accused persons are given a fair trial across the EU.

The development of equal standards for procedural rights in criminal matters will strengthen our citizens’ trust in the judicial systems of the Member States. The mutual recognition of court decisions will also encourage this. An individual can only comprehensively exercise his procedural rights if he knows what those rights are. For a fair trial, it is crucial that people are aware of their rights and that they know what the accusation against them is. If authorities fail to observe these procedural rights, then they jeopardise the fairness of the proceedings and risk miscarriages of justice.

The existing EU legal framework in the judicial area focuses on improved cooperation between judicial authorities. In contrast, the new directive concentrates on our citizens and the rights they enjoy in criminal proceedings. It states that police officers and prosecutors must provide people who have been arrested with written information concerning their rights in simple terms in a language they can understand. In addition to the right to interpretation and translation, this includes in particular informing them of the accusation against them, of the right to legal assistance and of the right to be heard by a judge without delay following arrest. In addition, Parliament has been able to expand the specific rights of which the suspect is to be informed. We have succeeded in integrating into the directive the right of access to medical assistance, the right to communication with relatives and the right to remain silent.

No one knows in advance how long a suspected person will remain in pre-trial detention, for how long he will be deprived of his liberty. It is therefore important that he is informed of his rights at an early stage and is also given access to material evidence for and against him. The accused person must not become the object of the criminal proceedings, but rather must be able to play an active part in the proceedings. The Member States must now adopt and implement the directive as soon as possible.

Finally, I would like to offer my thanks to the services of Parliament and of the Commission – and I would particularly like to thank the shadow rapporteurs, whose perseverance and really outstanding cooperation have made this report possible.

It is now important that the Council and Commission bring the follow-up measures to this directive to a rapid conclusion jointly with the European Parliament, thereby creating uniform standards and fair trials throughout the EU.

 
  
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  Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the Commission. – Mr President, I would first like to thank the rapporteur for the very solid work done and for the efficient way the negotiations on this dossier were concluded, which has permitted a first reading agreement. I would also like to praise the role of Mr Albrecht, the rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs, as well as the important role played by all the shadow rapporteurs.

I would like to thank the European Parliament in general because it has contributed to maintaining the level of ambition of the Commission’s proposal. One thing in particular which I believe is very important for our citizens, the letter of rights, has been maintained in the final text as well as the actual list of rights and the moment when the rights apply. I also welcome the fact that additional rights were added to the list of rights, notably the right to remain silent, which shows again that it is very good that Parliament has codecision possibilities because Parliament preserves the rights of the individual.

The measure on the right of information in criminal proceedings, as you know, is part of the Procedural Rights Roadmap and the implementation of this roadmap is one of my top priorities. The letter of rights and right to information is now the second measure adopted; with the right to interpretation and translation having already been adopted. So we are progressing quickly on this issue and I think that is good for the Europe of the citizens and of rights.

In some Member States I am asked the question: why do you do this – are those rights not the usual rights that everybody has? Unfortunately it still happens in some Member States that someone can be brought to trial and not know that he has a right to a lawyer or to an interpreter. We have even heard of cases where people have been tried in court and did not know or did not understand what the accusation against them was. With this measure, accused persons will receive a Letter of Rights, in a language they understand, and will be guaranteed to receive adequate information about the charges they face. This is important in today’s Europe in which millions of people exercise their right to free movement and travel to other EU Member States, be it to work, for study or for retirement. They need to know, if they find themselves caught up in criminal proceedings, that their rights are protected and that Parliament has helped to do this.

In addition, this measure will also play a vital part in promoting mutual trust between justice systems in the EU, which in turn is necessary to enhance judicial cooperation, because without trust this cooperation cannot function.

Here, together with those instruments of mutual recognition, we are creating a continent of justice, rights and security for European citizens, and I thank the parliamentarians who make this possible.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MIGUEL ÁNGEL MARTÍNEZ MARTÍNEZ
Vice-President

 
  
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  Jan Philipp Albrecht, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs.(DE) Mr President, as rapporteur for the Committee on Legal Affairs I would first like to add my thanks to the rapporteur from the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs – I believe that we have really cooperated well here in the European Parliament, where we members of the Committee on Legal Affairs also had opportunity to contribute suggestions in the process – and also, of course, to the other group members of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. Naturally, I would also like to congratulate the Commissioner for Justice and Fundamental Rights on the fact that a new cornerstone of this road map to create common standards in criminal proceedings has now been achieved. I believe we are agreed that this is a very important step on the way to achieving these common standards. It is also an important step for our citizens, because only informed citizens who know their rights can exercise such rights.

I am thus very interested about which rights we, as European citizens, will be able to exercise in future. For this reason, I am already looking to the future and I would also like to see us completing the further steps in the process as soon as possible, such as the right to access a lawyer – steps in which I will be involved as rapporteur for the Committee on Legal Affairs and as shadow rapporteur in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. I consider this to be extremely important. I would once again call on the Member States to give up their resistance to certain provisions and to take the common path towards creating these standards. It is hugely important. We, as Parliament, are ready to do this.

 
  
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  Elena Oana Antonescu, on behalf of the PPE Group.(RO) Mr President, access to information for suspected and accused persons is a key factor in ensuring fair criminal proceedings. The provision of information on rights is the basis for access to all rights. In order to prepare a defence, a person must know the details of the case in which he is being charged and of any available evidence. Suspected or accused persons do not always receive this information. Legislation and judicial practice differ considerably from one Member State to another. If suspects are not properly informed, the criminal proceedings may be unfair, which can give rise to unnecessary costs relating to delays in proceedings and to exercising appeal procedures and failed criminal investigations.

There are no rules at a high enough level, and those rules which do exist are not enforced properly. No minimum standards are established in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and neither the Convention nor its enforcement mechanisms offer sufficient protection in all cases with regard to the provision of adequate information about rights and, in particular, about the charges. The manner in which these rights are reflected in Member States’ national practice varies. This reinforces the need for action at EU level. The Union’s instruments facilitating judicial cooperation between Member States are based on the principle of mutual recognition of judgments, and this semi-automatic recognition requires mutual trust between judges and courts.

The available data shows that the problem of insufficient information is very serious and is not limited to particular Member States. Therefore, by adopting this Directive, we are taking another particularly important step towards better protection of basic rights in the European Union.

In closing, I wish to thank the rapporteur and shadow rapporteurs for their excellent collaboration on this dossier, as well as the Commissioner for the commitment she has shown in adopting rules which improve the procedural rights of defendants in criminal trials.

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková Beňová, on behalf of the S&D Group.(SK) Mr President, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, also set out the basic rights of defence.

These include, for example, the right to have access to a lawyer, the right to interpretation and translation, the right to be informed of the charge, the right to a regular review of detention and the right to be brought before a court. The proposal currently before the Committee seeks to improve the rights of suspected or accused persons, especially as regards information about rights and about the charge. It also covers the situation when a person is arrested under a European Arrest Warrant for prosecution or execution of a sentence. Having common minimum standards in relation to these rights should facilitate the application of the principle of mutual recognition, thereby improving the functioning of judicial cooperation between Member States. I agree with the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs, which opted for a fragmentary approach in the plan to strengthen procedural rights. The right to information was presented as the second measure of the plan, which contains half of a Letter of Rights, partly excluding other rights. These concern legal advice and legal aid, communication with relatives, employers and consular bodies, and the rights of vulnerable suspects or accused persons.

In my opinion, the right to information should be supplemented with these other rights. I would like to thank you very much for your attention, Commissioner, and I hope you will take these proposals of ours into account in your report.

 
  
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  Sarah Ludford, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, I congratulate Ms Sippel as rapporteur for leading us to a successful conclusion and I, as always, welcome the full support and backing of Vice-President Reding.

It is clear that a person who is arrested or questioned is in a vulnerable position and deserves to know their rights and how to apply them, but the quality of information provided is often poor. People often do not understand what rights they have, and this ignorance is exacerbated by being a foreigner and not speaking the local language. A particular need, given that we know that there is discrimination in granting of bail, is to know how to contest pre-trial detention.

EU laws are needed, backed by enforcement powers, to make concrete the rights theoretically available under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Parliament rightly fought for information to be provided as soon as possible, as soon as someone is informed they are a suspect. No one should be left for hours in a police cell to stew without knowing what is happening to them or being able to contact a lawyer or consular help.

We also rightly insisted on the accused person or their lawyer having access to all material possessed by police or prosecutors that will be used as evidence, and at an early enough stage for a proper defence to be mounted.

Like Vice-President Reding, I believe MEPs’ success in inserting a right to silence is very important. I am glad that my own country, the UK, has opted into this measure, whatever else it is doing elsewhere, as it did with the first one on the procedural rights road map on the right to interpretation and translation.

I am hopeful that the UK will also take part in the third measure on access to legal assistance and advice. The UK has a good record in the field of defence rights, so in this area my country needs to be fully engaged.

Of course, we are many years overdue in matching the strengthened cross-border powers of prosecutors with stronger rights for accused persons. I hope that we have put one more brick in the foundations of fair trials across the EU so that miscarriages of justice over measures like the European Arrest Warrants will become a thing of the past.

 
  
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  Janusz Wojciechowski, on behalf of the ECR Group. (PL) Mr President, we are debating a much-needed directive. A fair trial means that the right of defence must be respected, and the right of defence can only be asserted if persons exercising it have full information about the rights to which they are entitled in the first place. It is hard for someone who is arrested to defend themselves, and it is even harder when they are arrested in a country other than their own. The provision of full information should therefore be of particular concern to law enforcement agencies.

I approve of all of the solutions in the directive, but my only concern is whether its implementation will in fact work well in every instance, as we are dealing here with a difficult and delicate matter – the independence of the judiciary. Problems may arise with the actual functioning of the directive in practice. There should be an adequate system for examining complaints relating to abuse of the powers contained in the directive.

 
  
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  Gerard Batten, on behalf of the EFD Group. – Mr President, this directive includes the right to information for persons facing a European arrest warrant. In the case of an EAW, it will have to be a short letter. Subjects of EAWs effectively have no meaningful rights. Provided that the form has been correctly completed, the court has no power to refuse extradition. The court cannot base its decision on the prima facie evidence – or the lack of it – against the accused person. What is worse is that some people are being extradited, not after being charged, but to face investigation.

One of my constituents in London, Dr Miguel-Ángel Meizoso, is facing extradition to Spain, not for something that he is alleged to have done, but for something he is accused of that he might possibly do in the future. If you do not believe me, I can give you the case papers. An English court would reject his extradition if it had any power to do so. Giving Dr Meizoso a nice letter will not protect him and will be small consolation.

 
  
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  Raffaele Baldassarre (PPE).(IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, even though all EU Member States should respect people’s right to a fair trial, national procedures on information in criminal proceedings vary considerably from one country to another.

Some Member States provide for accused persons to receive only oral information about their procedural rights, while others provide information – especially if it is technical – only in writing or at the request of the accused. Since over 8 million criminal proceedings are brought in the European Union every year, it is easy to see that an information system that is still so varied and heterogeneous is inadequate.

I therefore agree with the content and aims of this directive. I am referring especially to the general rule making it compulsory to provide accused persons with information about their procedural rights before proceedings begin, particularly the right to be assisted by a lawyer and to be able to benefit from official translations if the proceedings are in a different language.

With regard to the stage after proceedings have begun, I agree with the two specific rights selected: the right of accused people to full information about the charges brought against them, and their right to access to the case file. These are two essential conditions for determining and challenging the lawfulness of the arrest or detention and for enabling them to put up the best possible defence.

I therefore congratulate the Commissioner, the rapporteur and the shadow rapporteurs on their work during the informal trialogues. These have led to the approval of measures that will harmonise the spread and development of fundamental rights, such as the right to a defence and the right to a fair trial.

 
  
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  Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D).(LT) Mr President, firstly I would like to congratulate the rapporteur on her well prepared report, because this Directive really is a huge step forward, reinforcing rights to information in criminal proceedings and common standards throughout the European Union. Indeed, simply knowing your rights is not enough, it is very important for them to be respected and to be able to exercise them in a real situation.

Denial of procedural rights can have a very detrimental effect on the fairness of the criminal process and may lead to judicial errors. This Directive is therefore aimed at ensuring a fair hearing in a person’s home country or another European Union Member State. Basic procedural rights also need to be respected, such as consulting a lawyer or having interpretation and translation if needed.

It is important for Member States to ensure that suspected or accused persons are provided with sufficient information about the accusations, such as the nature and cause of an accusation in order to safeguard the fairness of criminal proceedings and ensure the effective exercise of the right of defence. It is particularly important that the right to information in this Directive should not only cover rights concerning legal advice and legal aid, but should also grant rights to contact relatives, employers and consular services.

 
  
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  Axel Voss (PPE).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner Reding, I would firstly like to say that I very much welcome the results of the work carried out by Ms Sippel in conjunction with the rapporteurs. The proposal will successfully lay down common minimum standards for the right to information in criminal proceedings within the European Union. I thought at the outset that the proposal tabled by the Commission was very good. I would therefore like to offer my particular congratulations to Commissioner Reding.

In this process I was particularly concerned that the rights of the suspected person – particularly as regards the right to remain silent – should have no negative consequences, as was in fact the case in the law of certain Member States. That is now ensured. I am pleased about that, too. In the course of the discussions on this report it became clear that in many Member States there is no legal obligation to inform a suspected person of his right to legal assistance, and moreover that in only ten Member States were suspected persons informed of their rights in writing, and that in three Member States there was even no possibility whatsoever of access to documentation.

Looking at France and the practice there as regards garde à vue – in which there is no access to a lawyer during the initial detention period – it is clear that we need to carry out some approximation at a European level, and that we need to do so in the near future. Only then will we be able to restore trust in other Member States’ judicial systems and ensure that mutual recognition of judgements can take place on such a basis. Unless we have achieved an adequate level of approximation we will not be able to forge ahead with measures such as the European Investigation Order.

This report takes us a big step in the right direction. I congratulate all those involved.

 
  
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  Carmen Romero López (S&D).(ES) Mr President, I want to first acknowledge the efforts made by Commissioner Reding and the Commission in speeding up this package of procedural safeguards, given that it has been stalled for a long time, and could not be implemented until the Swedish Presidency established the roadmap.

Clearly, a country demonstrates how civilised it is by the way it treats suspects. For that reason, we consider that the specific proposal we are debating here today is very significant. I would like to thank Birgit Sippel for her efforts in introducing some elements into this proposal for a Directive, which are substantial for the suspect, for the letter of rights, that is, to know what the suspect is accused of and to establish, therefore, the right to remain silent and the right to learn of the substantial elements of which they are accused, as well as, of course, medical care, etc.

However, what I really want to highlight in this speech is the birth of this right, because this was the debate on the right to interpretation and translation, and this will be the debate on legal assistance for a suspect. When does this right come into being? When the suspected person is accused of something, and it is very important that this right is respected and that this right comes into force at the same time that the person becomes aware that they are a suspect.

 
  
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  Ioan Enciu (S&D).(RO) Mr President, first of all, I too would like to congratulate the rapporteur, Ms Sippel, for the work she has done and for her excellent report, and also the Commissioner, Vice-President Reding, for actually proposing this directive.

This new directive deals with a real issue faced by Romanian and European citizens, who, while enjoying freedom of movement within the European Union, must comply with the rules of 27 judicial systems. Greater harmonisation is needed between Member States’ judicial systems, both civil and criminal, and the first step towards this is to establish common standards for informing defendants. Often, defendants do not know either the local language or their rights under the national laws of Member States, and this can lead to abuses.

A good example is that of the Roma citizens from Romania and Bulgaria expelled from France without knowing what they were being accused of or what their rights were. The right to interpretation and translation and the right to be informed of one’s rights and obligations are fundamental and should be mandatory minimum standards in all Member States.

 
  
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  Zbigniew Ziobro (ECR).(PL) Mr President, the right to information for suspects and defendants during criminal proceedings is one of the cornerstones which should guarantee the standards of every civilised country. In this connection, we should welcome the work that this House has put into this document. We also welcome the fact that rules of this kind, which concern fundamental rights, are covered by this directive.

Let us not forget an issue which has been ignored here, although it too deserves attention, namely the situation of victims, who are often in a similarly difficult situation and do not receive adequate information, even though they have fallen victim to crimes which are sometimes atrocious. Sometimes they fall victim to these crimes in countries they are visiting as tourists, where they are unable to move around and defend their rights and reasons because of the language barrier. We must not forget about them, and we must not create an imbalance between the rights of the victim and those of the offender. We should remember that victims often become victims of crimes again, in a phenomenon known to researchers as ‘repeat victimisation’. This is due to the callousness of the judicial system, which does not respect their right to information or their right to protection, even though these should be the priority. In some jurisdictions the offender, often having acted deliberately and in full awareness of his deeds within an organised group, has more rights than his victim. This House must be vocal in its appeals for the rights of victims.

I am calling on you, Commissioner, and I would encourage you to get involved in measures to help victims, to help all those who right now are falling victim to serious crime and are later entirely ignored by the state apparatus, even in Europe. We are obliged to make changes, Commissioner. Let us do something about it.

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, Member States’ criminal legislation must take account of all the rights deriving from EU citizenship. In this context, I would draw attention to Amendment 4, which stipulates the right to translation and interpretation. This is an application of the principle of multilingualism, as stipulated in the founding Treaties which govern all areas of Union activity.

The right to a court-appointed counsel, referred to in the same amendment, represents the codification at European level of a principle guaranteeing access to justice. Member States’ legislation needs to be harmonised in order to ensure the funding required for this measure.

I support a copy of a list of rights being provided to all persons who are detained or arrested. I think that, at present, this category of persons does not receive even the minimum information required for a fair trial.

 
  
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  Phil Prendergast (S&D). - Mr President, judicial cooperation in the EU means that, just as criminals must not find ways of exploiting differences in the judicial systems of Member States, we must also ensure that people who are arrested or charged with a crime in another Member State do not suffer because of the differences in the legal systems.

This directive will reinforce mutual trust between Member States and will contribute to ensuring that, whenever someone is arrested or detained in Europe, they will be guaranteed a uniform level of information about proceedings. Member States must ensure that those arrested or detained in their territories are given prompt, detailed information about their rights.

Even though all Member States are signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights, human rights abuses still unfortunately occur within our territories. By passing this directive we are strengthening our trust in one another’s legal systems and helping to protect our citizens wherever they may be in Europe.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD).(SK) Mr President, citizens accused of a crime in another EU country often do not have the faintest idea of what to expect in criminal proceedings. Along with the general right of a participant to be informed about procedural rights, the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council therefore also defines two specific kinds of right. The right to information about the charge and the right to access to the case file mark a major step towards a situation where criminal proceedings operate in relation to the accused at least within the basic outlines of related rules in EU countries. Compliance with common minimum standards in relation to the right to information in criminal proceedings will also allow public bodies to avoid misconduct that might later undermine confidence, as well as the correctness and legality of criminal proceedings. The submitted Directive on the right to information in criminal proceedings will surely contribute to a substantial improvement in the rights of EU citizens in criminal proceedings.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI).(DE) Mr President, in a European Union in which the right to a fair trial and to a defence has been laid down in not one, but two instruments – firstly in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and secondly in the European Convention on Human Rights – one should be able to assume that people are informed of their rights in criminal proceedings as a matter of course. With eight million criminal trials taking place annually across Europe, the bureaucracy alone was unlikely to be able to keep up with increased mobility. However, the situation has improved considerably since the Commission became aware of the problem of EU citizens not being informed in another Member State of their basic fundamental rights in a language they can understand. In some countries the information is given only verbally; in others it is given in writing in such complex language – legalese you might call it – that unless you have a legal background you would hardly understand any of it, even in your own mother tongue. It is therefore to be welcomed if information on rights is now to be provided in the EU languages in written form and in accessible language – not just so as to save on interpreting costs, but also because this simple measure could help to prevent judicial errors, which is a good thing.

 
  
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  Nicole Sinclaire (NI). - Mr President, many of my constituents will be amazed to learn that a right to a lawyer or a phone call needs a directive in the European Union. We are fortunate in the UK to have comprehensive legal rights. My constituents may well just ask themselves what type of Union their country is part of.

Where they actually see the EU fall down – and this has terribly been mentioned by some of my colleagues this evening – is the European Arrest Warrant, where British citizens are brought before British courts who are powerless to take any action to stop what they can clearly see is unfair treatment by other EU countries. The need for this directive shows that their legal systems are not up to scratch. When are we going to protect ourselves and leave the European Union?

 
  
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  Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the Commission. – Mr President, it is very rare that in this House all political groups from the right to the left and the centre agree upon a measure. This seems to be the case on this one so I am very glad that tomorrow it looks like an overwhelming majority will endorse the decision, as was the case in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

The sooner this directive is adopted and comes into force, the better it will be. Of course its full transposition in all Member States also needs to be done in a very quick way and it will be a strong message, a message that Europe is serious about protecting citizens’ rights.

I know that most of you who have spoken today are already working on the third measure of the procedural rights road map, the access to a lawyer, and on the right to communicate upon detention. I am confident that the Parliament will help the Commission on this subject because there are some Member States who are objecting to the presence of a lawyer. I am counting on the help of the European Parliament in order to strike a fair balance in this proposal between the rights of the defence and the need to conduct criminal investigations effectively. I think that this is in the text. If it has to be improved, then I am in the hands of Parliament in order to make a better text, but a text there should be.

So thank you for endorsing this one, thank you in advance for voting in favour of it tomorrow, and thank you for helping me with the next steps.

 
  
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  Birgit Sippel , rapporteur.(DE) Mr President, I believe Ms Reding has said it already; today’s debate has underlined once again what the unanimous decision in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs made clear – namely that strengthening procedural rights is a concern of us all, whatever group we belong to and, to a certain extent, whichever Member State we represent. I therefore hope – and I am very confident about this – that we will again get a good proposal from the Commission for the next measure, which is the right to a lawyer; that we will be able to improve on this even further and that, following our discussions with the Council, we will once again be able to achieve a very good directive. I wish the rapporteur, Ms Antonescu, all the best with this and I believe she can count on the support of this House.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow, Tuesday, at 12.00.

 
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