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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Presumption of Innocence Close to Being EU Law

(CN) - The European Parliament's civil liberties committee on Tuesday backed a plan to make "innocent until proven guilty" the law of the EU, at all stages of criminal proceedings.

The committee's approval codifies a deal struck by negotiators from the parliament and the EU Council, and ensures that the right to be presumed innocent applies "at all stages from the moment when a person is suspected or accused of having committed a criminal offense until the final determination of the question whether the person has committed the offense concerned and that decision has become definitive."

About 9 million people are the subject of criminal proceedings each year in the European Union, the committee said.

The move comes amid fears that member states could shift the burden of proof from the prosecution to the accused without a blanket protection of rights across the EU, which the new law mandates.

"Parliament fought successfully to get rid of the clause that gave member states a real possibility of reversing the burden of proof. The burden of proof lies with the prosecution. This is a key principle of criminal law and it was our red line," said rapporteur Nathalie Griesbeck.

"We also secured a paragraph preventing the use of evidence obtained in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, i.e. as a result of torture, as well as a clause enshrining the absolute right to silence," Griesbeck said. "Furthermore, we have ensured that the accused cannot be made to look guilty, before a verdict is reached, for example by being handcuffed or made to wear prison uniform."

National authorities are also banned from making statements that presume guilt before an individual has been prosecuted, the committee said.

The agreement must be approved by the full parliament and council, after which time member states have two years to transpose it into their national laws.

Both the United Kingdom and Ireland used their flexible opt-outs for matters of justice and will not be required to adopt the changes. Denmark has a permanent opt-out for justice and home affairs legislation and will not adopt the new law, either.

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