Practical Cooperation in judicial matters: the Council’s priorities for the next 18 months

Regarding the horizontal issues in the field of justice, the Spanish, Belgium, and Hungarian Presidencies will prioritise the protection and promotion of fundamental rights, the protection of personal data, E-Justice and the training of judges, prosecutors and judicial staff.

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Right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings: the legislative works restart

The necessity to set up common minimum standards as regard to procedural rights applying in criminal proceedings throughout the European Union was already clear for the European Parliament in 2001 when, following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the European Union adopted a series of measures such as the European Arrest Warrant and the Framework Decision on terrorism.

However, nobody did anything in this field for several years because the European Commission as well as the Member States believed that national legislations were sufficient.

This was everything but self-evident. Indeed, the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human rights in Strasbourg as well as the increasing number of refusals to apply the European Arrest Warrant issued by a judge of another Member State, especially after the EU enlargement to 27 Member States in 2004 suggested quite the opposite.

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Consultation on obtaining evidence in criminal matters from one Member State to another and securing its admissibility (deadline 22/01/2010)

With the launch of a recent Green Paper, The European Commission invites Member States and all concerned stakeholders to define a European strategy concerning the collection of admissible evidence in criminal matters in a cross-border context.

 The Commission Communication recalls that already with the Tampere Conclusions in 1999 the European Council clearly set out the necessity to facilitate mutual trust and recognition of national decisions to overcome the obstacles derived from the differences between national legal systems and promote the fight against cross-border criminality.

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The new powers of the Court of Justice after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty

The press release published on November 30th by the Court of Justice is worth reading by everybody interested in the European Law as well by the every individual whishing to bthe protection of its rights.
The very essential and clear text is the following:

The Treaty of Lisbon and the Court of Justice of the European Union

The Treaty of Lisbon, which was signed on 13 December 2007 by the 27 Heads of State or Government of the Member States of the Union, comes into force on 1 December 2009. It amends the two fundamental treaties – the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Treaty establishing the European Community, with the latter to be known in future as the ‘Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union’ (TFEU). (1)
The Treaty of Lisbon makes changes to the organisation and jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

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New prospects for relations between the Court of Justice and national courts

Everyone knows the fundamental role of the Court of Justice in the construction of a European legal space. Indeed, thanks to its preliminary rulings which guide the work of national courts when they are called upon to enforce community law. Over the decades, the dialogue between European and national courts has ensured an increasingly faithfully interpretation of community law as well as the development of a true common legal culture.

After all, what value might have fundamental rights to stakeholders if judges are not capable to secure their correct application?

In this regard it must be recognised that the increased synergy between European and national judges (acting in this case as ‘European’ judges) together with the new powers of European Court of Justice in the area of freedom, security and justice resulted by the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon will definitely increase individual’s rights in this domain.

For example, in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters (the so-called “third pillar”), before the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the Court’s ability to issue preliminary rulings relied upon Member States’ discretion on the basis of Article 35 of the Treaty on European Union (*). Indeed up to the 30 November several of these Member States did not accept the Court’s competence competence.

Another example relates to the domains ‘communitarised’ in 1999 with the Treaty of Amsterdam (immigration, borders, asylum and judicial and criminal cooperation). Although in this case the situation was a bit better, Article 68 TEC (**) limited the possibility to obtain pre-trial interpretation only to judges of last appeal.

With the Treaty of Lisbon this situation has radically changed. With a Communication  appeared in the Official Journal on 5 December, the European Court of Justice has published a series of apparently non-binding guidelines aimed at establishing a daily relation between national and European judges.

In this regard, the guidelines concerning the urgent preliminary ruling procedure related to the area of freedom, security and justice are particularly interesting. They state:

The procedure is governed by Article 23a of Protocol (No 3) on the Statute of the Court of Justice of the European Union (OJEU 2008 C 115, p. 210) and Article 104b of the Rules of Procedure of the Court of Justice. National courts may request that this procedure be applied or request the application of the accelerated procedure under the conditions laid down in Article 23a of the Protocol and Article 104a of the Rules of Procedure.”

Conditions for the application of the urgent preliminary ruling procedure

33. The urgent preliminary ruling procedure is applicable only in the areas covered by Title V of Part Three of the TFEU, which relates to the area of freedom, security and justice.

34. The Court of Justice decides whether this procedure is to be applied. Such a decision is generally taken only on a reasoned request from the referring court. Exceptionally, the Court may decide of its own motion to deal with a reference under the urgent preliminary ruling procedure, where that appears to be required.

35. The urgent preliminary ruling procedure simplifies the various stages of the proceedings before the Court, but its application entails significant constraints for the Court and for the parties and other interested persons participating in the procedure, particularly the Member States.

36. It should therefore be requested only where it is absolutely necessary for the Court to give its ruling on the reference as quickly as possible. Although it is not possible to provide an exhaustive list of such situations, particularly because of the varied and evolving nature of the rules of European Union law governing the area of freedom, security and justice, a national court or tribunal might, for example, consider submitting a request for the urgent preliminary ruling procedure to be applied in the following situations: in the case, referred to in the fourth paragraph of Article 267 TFEU, of a person in custody or deprived of his liberty, where the answer to the question raised is decisive as to the assessment of that person’s legal situation or, in proceedings concerning parental authority or custody of children, where the identity of the court having jurisdiction under European Union law depends on the answer to the question referred for a preliminary ruling.

However, it must be pointed out that these new competences will not be applied before five years  in the area of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters for acts adopted before the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon (art. 10 Protocol 36).

Also with this temporally exception it is nonetheless clear that a new phase has now started also for European judges. The interpretation of community law can now be based on an even more authority Court which in turn can rely on the Treaty and the binding Charter on Fundamental Rights binding for all the institutions, including European and national judges.

EDC

(*) EX Article 35 (TEU)
1. The Court of Justice of the European Communities shall have jurisdiction, subject to the conditions laid down in this Article, to give preliminary rulings on the validity and interpretation of framework decisions and decisions, on the interpretation of conventions established under this Title and on the validity and interpretation of the measures implementing them.
2. By a declaration made at the time of signature of the Treaty of Amsterdam or at any time thereafter, any Member State shall be able to accept the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice to give preliminary rulings as specified in paragraph 1.

3. A Member State making a declaration pursuant to paragraph 2 shall specify that either:

(a)any court or tribunal of that State against whose decisions there is no judicial remedy under national law may request the Court of Justice to give a preliminary ruling on a question raised in a case pending before it and concerning the validity or interpretation of an act referred to in paragraph 1 if that court or tribunal considers that a decision on the question is necessary to enable it to give judgment, or

(b) any court or tribunal of that State may request the Court of Justice to give a preliminary ruling on a question raised in a case pending before it and concerning the validity of interpretation of an act referred to in paragraph 1 if that court or tribunal considers that a decision on the question is necessary to enable it to give judgment. Treaty on European Union 25

4. Any Member State, whether or not it has made a declaration pursuant to paragraph 2, shall be entitled to submit statements of case or written observations to the Court in cases which arise under paragraph 1.

5. The Court of Justice shall have no jurisdiction to review the validity or proportionality of operations carried out by the police or other law enforcement services of a Member State or the exercise of the responsibilities incumbent upon Member States with regard to the maintenance of law and order and the safeguarding of internal security.

6. The Court of Justice shall have jurisdiction to review the legality of framework decisions and decisions in actions brought by a Member State or the Commission on grounds of lack of competence, infringement of an essential procedural requirement, infringement of this Treaty or of any rule of law relating to its application, or misuse of powers. The proceedings provided for in this paragraph shall be instituted within two months of the publication of the measure.

7. The Court of Justice shall have jurisdiction to rule on any dispute between Member States regarding the interpretation or the application of acts adopted under Article 34(2) whenever such dispute cannot be settled by the Council within six months of its being referred to the Council by one of its members. The Court shall also have jurisdiction to rule on any dispute between Member States and the Commission regarding the interpretation or the application of conventions established under Article 34(2)(d).

(**) Article 68 TCE
1. Article 234 shall apply to this title under the following circumstances and conditions: where a question on the interpretation of this title or on the validity or interpretation of acts of the institutions of the Community based on this title is raised in a case pending before a court or a tribunal of a Member State against whose decisions there is no judicial remedy under national law, that court or tribunal shall, if it considers that a decision on the question is necessary to enable it to give judgment, request the Court of Justice to give a ruling thereon.

2. In any event, the Court of Justice shall not have jurisdiction to rule on any measure or decision taken pursuant to Article 62(1) relating to the maintenance of law and order and the safeguarding of internal security.

3. The Council, the Commission or a Member State may request the Court of Justice to give a ruling on a question of interpretation of this title or of acts of the institutions of the Community based on this title. The ruling given by the Court of Justice in response to such a request shall not apply to judgments of courts or tribunals of the Member States which have become res judicata.

Council continues debates on the Proposal regarding the Framework Decision on Transfer of proceedings in criminal matters

The orientation debate held in the Council on Monday 30 November on the framework decision on the transfer of proceedings in criminal matters (*) (Interinstitutional Procedure 2009/0811, Council document 13504/09) highlighted that currently there are several different legal possibilities to transfer criminal proceedings within the Union and this contributes to legal uncertainty, incompatibility between legal systems and is contrary to the Treaty objective of creating an Area of justice within the Union. The Presidency is convinced that transfer of proceedings is a missing link in the cooperation between Member States and that a provision on the creation of jurisdiction would become a cornerstone in such cooperation.
According to the Council Press Release progress has been made on several provisions. There remain, however, outstanding questions related to an essential element of this draft legislation, namely the question of jurisdiction. Ministers held a substantial discussion on the principle of jurisdiction to be used for future work on this dossier.
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EU and U.S.A. Agreements on Extradition and Mutual Legal Assistance

The Agreements between the European Union (EU) and the United States of America (USA) on Extradition and Mutual Legal Assistance for criminal matters will probably enter into force at the beginning of 2010  since they have now been ratified by all 27 member states and the US Senate (Greece being the last to sign, on 24 June). The Council Decision will be adopted in the next days once the formal exchange of the bilateral instruments of ratification is completed during the meeting of the ministerial troika with the American administration in Washington on 27 October.

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“Road map”’s overview on procedural guarantees and other proposals in the field of judicial cooperation in criminal matters sent by the Swedish Presidency

The Roadmap submitted by the Swedish Presidency “With a view to fostering protection of suspected and accused persons in criminal proceedings” (the Roadmap) on 1 July 2009 has the objective of reinforcing some fundamental rights which should be recognised to individuals involved in criminal proceedings, being them defendant, victims or witnesses. 

The European legislator has already introduced measures which recognise those rights such as:

 1       The framework decision of 15 March 2001of the council of the European Union concerning the position of the victim during criminal proceedings (act 2001),

2       The Framework decision of 13 June 2002 on European Arrest Warrant (act 2002),

3       The Framework decision of 18 December 2008 on European Arrest Warrant related to the research of proofs to be used during criminal proceedings (act 2008).

The Swedish presidency suggests some measures to reinforce the judicial proceedings, in relation to:

A) translation and interpretation;

B) information related to rights and charges;

C) legal assistance and the right to have a lawyer;

D) communication to relatives, employees and consular authorities;

E) special protection to vulnerable individuals;

F) green book on the right of reassessment of the reasons for detention.

Leda Bargiotti