THE EU should introduce new legislation guaranteeing a minimum level of rights for criminal suspects and a basic right to privacy for its citizens.
It also needs to ensure that member states are properly and efficiently implementing new European legislation in the fields of justice, freedom and security.
These are two key recommendations in a confidential EU report entitled Proposed Solutions for the Future EU Justice Programme, which has been drawn up by justice ministers from six EU states, the European Commission and the European Parliament.
The report, which maps out the future for EU justice policy, says the union has introduced a swathe of measures to boost police co-operation in recent years, but has so far failed to agree basic laws to provide fundamental rights for citizens.
It criticises the failure to agree on a law guaranteeing minimum rights for criminal suspects and recommends that justice ministers revisit the issue as a first step to boosting rights.
“The consultations on the framework decision to strengthen the rights of the accused in criminal proceedings showed that we are still a long way from our goal of securing for our citizens an effective minimal standard of protection in criminal proceedings throughout Europe,” says the 46-page report.
It also notes that one of the primary responsibilities of EU justice ministers is to strengthen the protection of citizens’ rights.
Ireland was one of a handful of member states that blocked the proposed EU law on minimum rights for suspects last year after three years of debate at the Council of Ministers. It opposed the measure over a fundamental objection that the EU had no right to encroach on the Irish common law legal system.
The report, which does not mention Ireland, calls on member states to agree to provide the right to information with regard to procedural rights; the right to defence counsel and legal aid; the right to an interpreter and translation of relevant documents.
It calls on member states to adopt minimum rules in terms of the presumption of innocence.
It also warns that the right to privacy, including in the specific field of data protection, should not be “erased by the necessities of law enforcement”.
“The true challenge is to prevent and combat crimes within the context of a democratic society,” it says
Ireland has one of the most stringent laws on data retention in the EU, mandating that telephone call data – information on the numbers, the time and duration of phone and mobile calls – be held for three years.
It is also mounting a legal challenge at the European Court of Justice to an EU directive that would reduce the maximum allowable period of retention to two years and impose a six-month minimum threshold.
The report says the quest for the effective balance between fundamental rights and security rules and principles must be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
The report criticises EU states for implementing EU justice legislation poorly and notes that there is “implementation fatigue” among national legislators.
It also criticises justice ministers for not always turning up at the Council of Ministers, noting that attendance at the meetings – where new justice legislation is debated – is “not always encouraging”.
Justice report: main points
A new EU law providing a basic set of rights for criminal suspects should be agreed.
The EU should act to protect its citizens against the risk of excessive or illegitimate use of their personal information when it is collected in or from member states.
New initiatives to enable people to make cross-border legal claims electronically, such as the creation of a uniform EU certificate of inheritance, should be pursued.
An EU-wide child alert system should be set up to combat child abduction.
Member states should boost the status of Eurojust, the EU agency charged with co-ordinating investigations and prosecutions of serious cross-border crime.
The EU should put in place an “effective” European Evidence Warrant, enabling member states to request evidence to be obtained on suspects living in other EU states.