21st Jan 2021

EU detainees to get 'letter of rights'

  • Detainees are to be given their rights in writing (Photo: banspy)

Aiming to compensate for lack of information given in some member states to suspects of crime, EU deputies in the justice committee on Wednesday (23 November) approved a proposal to grant those deprived of liberty the right to be informed of their legal rights in the form of a written letter.

"The letter of rights will inform people arrested about their rights in a language they understand, including the right to interpretation and translation and the right to access to a lawyer," said German MEP Birgit Sippel, author of the final report, which was approved by unanimity.

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The right will become law after it has been given the final nod by the full parliament in December and by national justice ministers, who will then have two years to implement the measure.

Fair trial activists have welcomed the move.

"In general, it is a very positive step forward," said Jodie Blackstock, director of EU justice policy at Justice, a British human rights organisation. "We are very pleased to see the right to remain silent in there, which is a crucial right but was missing in the initial proposal."

Not all member states currently issue such a letter and some that do, do so in a way that is difficult to understand.

"Some look like wall-paper [in terms of illegibility]," says Tura Spronken, professor of criminal law at Maastricht University, who led a research into the situation in different member states and who drafted a template letter that has been annexed to the new regulation.

"Others say that you have the right to remain silent but that it would be better for you to talk. Or that you'll be eligible for a lower sentence if you confess," she added.

The letter in England and Wales (Scotland has its own) has been taken as an example. "It is drafted in a language that a 12-year-old would understand, it is available in 49 languages and even on audio," Balckstock noted

Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece and Slovenia currently do not provide any form of written statement. Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal and Romania do not provide an actual letter of rights but do provide some other type of written notification.

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