EU, You Finally Have the Right to an Attorney

     (CN) – Police in Europe must soon inform arrestees of their “right to an attorney,” after lawmakers overwhelmingly approved EU-wide legal access rules Tuesday.
     The European Parliament passed the bill – which guarantees EU criminal suspects the right to counsel from arrest to the end of their proceedings – on a 661-29 vote, with eight abstentions. It next heads to the European Council, where final passage is expected.
     Tuesday’s vote marks the third in a series of directives by the European Commission aimed at guaranteeing fair trial rights for EU citizens, no matter where they reside in Europe. Commission vice president and justice commissioner Viviane Reding, who proposed the bill, hailed Parliament’s decision and urged council ministers to act quickly as well.
     “EU citizens have the right to a fair trial, whatever their nationality and wherever they are in the Union,” Reding said in a statement . “We have built up a series of procedural rights in EU law and the right to be advised by a lawyer is a central part. I count on national ministers to do their part to make sure that this law swiftly becomes a reality on the ground.”
     Although enshrined in the U.S. Bill of Rights since 1791, the right to counsel in all criminal proceedings is rare worldwide. France’s 1808 Napoleonic Code guaranteed representation only for defendants accused of severe crimes, while the Prisoners’ Counsel Act of 1836 gave accused criminals in the United Kingdom access to attorneys at their own expense.
     U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the 1930s ordered federal courts to appoint lawyers for defendants in capital cases, and extended the rule to state courts in 1961. In 1963’s Gideon v. Wainwright, the high court held that counsel must be provided to indigent defendants in all felony cases.
     More recently, Brewer v. Williams – decided in 1977 – held that “criminal proceedings” begin at the time of interrogation, granting any suspect being detained or questioned by police the right to representation.

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