Manifest från CCBE för verklig rättvisa i Europa
2009 is a year of important institutional changes at European level, not least because the European Parliament will be reconstituted after the European elections on 4–7 June. Later in the year, it will be the Commission’s turn to be renewed, and it can be expected that it will also reorganise its departments on that occasion, with the new Parliament exercising an increasing degree of influence in this. July 2009 will also mark the start of the Swedish Presidency of the Council, which has high on its agenda the objective of defining the action programme – already called the ‘Stockholm Programme’ – for the next five years in the area of freedom, security and justice.
The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) which, through its members, represents over 700 000 lawyers from the European Union and European Economic Area and beyond, is of course trying to influence the direction of the EU’s principal policies in the field of justice. It is in this context that the CCBE published on 3 March 2009 a manifesto calling for ‘the right kind of justice for Europe’.
The general aim of the CCBE manifesto is to ask EU decision-makers to ensure that there is always a proper co-ordination and coherence of policy in the justice sector, with particular attention to striking the right balance between fundamental rights and other political priorities, such as security. All CCBE proposals have as their aim to defend the fundamental legal principles upon which democracy and the rule of law are based. The CCBE believes that these principles are all at the heart of the European Union.
The CCBE manifesto is a four-point document. It calls on the EU:
Firstly, to establish a separate directorate general for justice (‘DG Justice’) at the European Commission, which should have responsibility only for justice – excluding conflicting responsibilities such as security – and deal with all matters of justice, and not just some of them. Such DG should also have an overall role for ensuring consistency and coherence in European legislation;
Secondly, when defining the obligations to report to public authorities (eg in the fight against terrorism or in financial regulation), to guarantee the right of a client to consult a lawyer in full confidence as a fundamental element of the administration of justice and of rule of law;
Thirdly, to protect the procedural rights of suspects and defendants in criminal proceedings in all Member States and to make every effort to develop without further delay common minimum standards for all Member States, and thus correct the imbalance which currently exists at the European level between the rights of the prosecution and the rights of the defence; and
Fourthly, to strike the right balance between liberty and security in legislation against terrorism and organised crime. An example of the balance not being struck appropriately can be found in the failure to introduce minimum procedural safeguards, as mentioned above, despite the prior introduction of the European Arrest Warrant to speed extradition.
Some of the CCBE’s issues are gaining attention. The idea of a DG Justice is now being discussed and promoted by other influential actors in the Brussels scene. At the end of the day, it will be for the European Commission to decide, but there are already encouraging signs of re-organisation within the structure of the existing DG for Justice, Freedom and Security.
The definition at EU level of minimum procedural safeguards in criminal proceedings is also gaining momentum, thanks to the impulse given by the future Swedish Presidency to revive this objective, focusing as a start on linguistic assistance for suspects and defendants in cross-border cases. The CCBE understands that there may be a pragmatic step-by-step approach adopted, rather than going for an ensemble of non-separable rights (which the CCBE would prefer). But it is a reassurance that the intention is to work from a pre-defined package of rights, which should help avoid some rights being left out.
By focusing on the rule of law and fundamental rights, the CCBE manifesto is sending the message to EU decision-makers that they are missing an important part of the picture when they consider lawyers, as they currently tend to do, merely as another category of service provider rather than as an essential actor of justice. There are more and more studies, policy papers and other documents issued by national and supranational organisations, such as the European Union, which look narrowly at lawyers and the whole European legal profession as just another market player with special anti-competitive privileges, without taking into consideration the most important role of the profession - to speak up in maintaining the rule of law in a democratic society. Hopefully, the CCBE’s message will now be heard.