Brussels pushes to enforce EU ‘Miranda Rights’

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Police officers in all EU countries might be required to present a standard letter of rights to criminal suspects in their custody before they are interrogated, resembling the so-called 'Miranda Warning' used in the US, according to a European Commission paper obtained by EURACTIV.

If the proposal, which the Commission is presenting today (20 July), is endorsed by member states and the European Parliament, national police officers across the EU will act like US cops seen in many Hollywood films when they stop suspected criminals.

"You have the right to be informed of what offence you are suspected; to the assistance of a lawyer; to an interpreter and translation of documents [and] to know for how long you can be detained," reads the warning, which suspected criminals will hear before they are interrogated to inform them of their rights, according to the draft proposal, seen by EURACTIV.

The US way

The letter is similar to the so-called 'Miranda Warning' which policemen in the United States must read to arrested people.

US policemen are obliged to inform those who they arrest of their rights, following a famous US Supreme Court decision in 1966 relating to a case opposing Ernesto Arturo Miranda and the State of Arizona.

The court ruling established a number of guidelines for policemen dealing with arrested suspects. The decision says, for example, that "the person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he or she has the right to remain silent, and that anything the person says will be used against that person in court".

Towards a 'Reding Warning'?

In the EU, communicating basic rights to arrested persons will need even further consideration due to the variety of languages spoken on the continent. An oral declaration of rights would not guarantee that suspected criminals actually understand their rights.

Indeed, Europeans increasingly live in other member states, with peaks reached during summer when up to 47% of Germans or 34% of Britons go abroad on holiday, according to figures provided by the European Commission.

What could become the 'Reding Warning', named after the EU justice commissioner tabling the proposal, is rather a Letter of Rights which would be made available to every suspect and translated into all the EU's official languages.

Commissioner Viviane Reding will propose a standard format to be used in all 27 EU countries, but member states will remain free to decide upon the exact wording of the document.

At the moment, countries apply different procedures to deal with suspected criminals and arrested persons. All provide information orally, but only 12 deliver letters of rights to suspects.

"These varying standards and approaches can lead to suspects not being given all or any of the information they need for their defence," reads the Commission document.

Many past cases confirm such risks. For example, a national of one member state was arrested abroad for a drug offence, charged and jailed without knowing either her rights or what she was accused of having done. It took her four years to be cleared, explains a Commission paper.

The risk of misconduct is likely to increase as the number of EU nationals living in other countries grows and police forces increasingly turn to the European Arrest Warrant. In 2008, there were 14,000 European Arrest Warrants issued, compared to less than 7,000 in 2005.

British MEP Sarah Ludford (ALDE), European justice and human rights spokeswoman for the UK Liberal Democrats, welcomed the proposed EU 'letter' of fair trial rights.

''The European Commission's commendably strong proposal is not only welcome but desperately needed. It is completely unacceptable that many people are presently left in the dark about what their rights are when arrested abroad in Europe," Ludford said. 

"Many miscarriages of justice or police mistreatment can be avoided if suspects are alerted to their rights. The inclusion of European Arrest Warrant cases means accused persons will know they can demand a hearing before extradition," she said.

"MEPs must fight hard to stop this proposal being watered down by EU governments, who sometimes wrongly seem to think that curtailing rights saves money. In fact foul-ups are very expensive to both budgets and country reputations,'' she warned. 

EU Justice Ministers agreed last December upon a roadmap "for strengthening procedural rights of suspected or accused persons in criminal proceedings". They listed a number of measures to be introduced to national legislation.

The roadmap includes actions to guarantee: translation and interpretation; information on rights and charges; legal advice and aid; communication with relatives, employers and consular authorities; special safeguards for vulnerable persons; and possible time limits on pre-trial detention.

The first measure to be endorsed at EU level was a guaranteed right to interpretation and translation at criminal trials (EURACTIV 17/06/10).

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