EU law supremacy even in criminal matters

For the first time, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has confirmed that EU framework decisions can be applied in national criminal courts.

On 16 June 2005, the ECJ issued a ground-breaking judgment stating that a Council framework decision concerning police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters must be respected in a national criminal court case.

The case before the ECJ concerned an Italian nursery school teacher accused of maltreating her 5-year old charges. Under Italian law, there was no procedure allowing the young victims to give evidence in private – they would have to appear before the full court (except in sexual offence cases). However, an EU framework decision does provide for special procedures for protection of minors in such a case. 

Under the EU Treaty, framework decisions adopted under the third pillar have no direct effect i.e. they cannot normally be directly invoked by individuals in national courts. However, the ECJ pointed out  that framework decisions are “binding” on member states in that they have a bearing on the interpretation of national law. The ECJ went on to say that, in this case, “the Italian court is required to interpret (national law) as far a possible in a way that conforms to the wording and purpose of the framework decision”. In this case, this meant allowing vulnerable victims to be protected when giving testimony. 

Commission spokesperson Martin Selmayr said that this was a “historic decision” which would “considerably strengthen the legal instruments available in the field of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters.”

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