13th May 2021

Five EU countries oppose new rights on access to lawyers

  • Access to a lawyer during the entire arrest procedure is seen as too expensive by some EU countries (Photo: banspy)

Belgium, France, the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands are opposing a European Commission proposal to extend the right to a lawyer for the entire period a suspect is held in police custody, citing rising costs and concerns that criminal procedures may be compromised.

In a joint letter sent ahead of a meeting of justice ministers on Friday (23 September) the five countries claim the proposal would create "substantial difficulties" for investigations, which could be slowed down by having to wait for a lawyer before fingerprints can be taken.

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Extra costs are also a concern. "It is not possible to legislate to enhance and strengthen the rights of defendants - either at EU or domestic level - without also factoring in the resources and functioning of the criminal justice system," the letter reads.

But according to commission spokesman Matthew Newman, ensuring access to a lawyer during the entire arrest "is a key measure to build confidence and mutual trust."

"Citizens must know that wherever they go in the EU, they can be confident that minimum procedural rights will be guaranteed," he told this website.

He said the proposal would rather reduce costs incurred by appeals to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg by an estimated €11 million for all member states over 10 years.

The commission's proposals were tabled in June in a bid to streamline defendants' rights across the EU, after a series of abuses connected to the European arrest warrant - a scheme allowing member states to extradite criminal suspects to other EU countries.

Fair Trials International, a UK-based charity campaigning for suspects' rights when arrested abroad, has documented several cases where the European arrest warrant has not allowed people to defend themselves or even be informed properly about the cause of their detention.

Garry Mann, a British citizen arrested and convicted to two years in prison in Portugal for allegedly taking part in a riot "had only five minutes with his lawyer before the trial and did not know what he was charged with until after he was sentenced."

A British court dismissed the trial as "so unfair as to be incompatible with the respondents’ right to a fair trial." He still had to serve one year in a Portuguese prison before being transferred to the UK to serve the rest of his sentence.

In another case, Mark Marku, an Albanian national with Irish residency was arrested in Crete in September 2010 and accused of being part of a criminal gang carrying out armed robberies.

Marku claims he is innocent and was denied access to a lawyer for over two days, during which he was subjected to severe physical abuse from the authorities to make him sign documents in Greek, which he could not read.

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