Belfast Telegraph

EU right-to-lawyer rules opposed

Ireland and the UK have been joined by three other countries in refusing to sign up for new EU rules setting common standards for access to lawyers in criminal cases.

A declaration to be presented at negotiations in Brussels expresses "serious reservations" about EU Commission proposals which, say the five countries, "would present substantial difficulties for the effective conduct of criminal proceedings by their investigating, prosecuting and judicial authorities".

A UK parliamentary motion earlier this month signalled concerns about the plans being drawn up, which would require a lawyer present at every investigative meeting with a suspect, including during fingerprinting.

Ireland, the UK, Belgium, France and Holland now say the proposal would "hamper the effective conduct of criminal investigations and proceedings".

Draft conclusions due to be approved by EU justice and home affairs ministers include a disclaimer from the five warning that the Commission plans do not strike the right balance between the rights of the defendant and the effective investigation and prosecution of offenders.

"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," it says.

Setting minimum EU-wide standards on rights to lawyers and to communicate on arrest with a third person, such as a relative, employer or consular authority, is welcome, say the five.

If the correct balance is found, the idea would be beneficial for "every suspected and accused person subject to criminal proceedings in the Union and for every criminal investigation and prosecution conducted by member state authorities".

But they oppose a Commission plan which they say would "mandate the presence of a lawyer for every investigative measure where the suspect's presence is required or permitted (for instance when the suspect's fingerprints are taken), and permit the physical presence of the lawyer in every case, no matter how minor".

The statement cautions: "This imbalance would in many cases also lead to delay in the early stages of investigations, without commensurate added value for the suspect's interest which could even be harmed by such delay. It would also involve substantial additional resources from member states."

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