EESC opinion: Procedural rights package



Key points

  • The Committee welcomes and endorses the Commission proposals for directives and recommendations on presumption of innocence, procedural safeguards for children and vulnerable groups, and provisional legal aid. It does, however, have some reservations and suggestions for strengthening the baselines and goals of these proposals:
  • On the presumption of innocence, the Committee would emphasise that no-one is guilty before the final verdict is reached, and that this is an inviolable right. It would underline that public confidence in the legal system requires judges to be immune to pressure or influence of any type, including from the media.
  • On procedural safeguards for children in criminal proceedings, the Committee would point out that children are in a most vulnerable position when they are deprived of their liberty, given the risks that this entails for their mental and physical wellbeing. Priority must be given to initiatives which help integrate children facing criminal proceedings as swiftly as possible into society and everyday life.
  • On provisional legal aid, the Committee endorses the recommendation that seeks to further harmonise the criteria for decisions about the right to legal aid in criminal proceedings. Legal aid in such proceedings must not be jeopardised because of the budgetary difficulties facing some Member States, and it wonders to what extent resources could be made available at European level, say in the form of a European fund.
  • It notes that the proposed directives on the presumption of innocence and safeguards for children only apply in the framework of criminal proceedings. The Committee holds the view that the term "criminal proceedings", along the lines of European Court of Human Rights case-law in this domain, should be able to be interpreted in European law independently of its classification in Member States' laws.
  • On the proceedings in absentia referred to in Article 8 of the proposed directive on the presumption of innocence, the Committee notes that this provision states that criminal proceedings may only be held in the absence of the accused person if it has been unequivocally established that the person concerned is aware of the scheduled trial.