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From the Brussels office

16 August 10

Recent EU developments on the Services Directive; e-justice portal; maximum fees for lawyers; victims' rights; accused's letter of rights

Services Directive

On 30 June, the European Commission launched a consultation exercise seeking feedback on the operation of cross-border supply of services since the implementation of the Services Directive at the end of December 2009. The implementation into national law is under constant review and in addition to a system of “peer review” between Governments, the Commission is seeking feedback from consumers and businesses as to their views of how the measures in the Services Directive have been put in place nationally. See http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/consultations/2010/services_directive_en.htm .

E-justice portal

The European e-justice portal – described as an electronic one-stop shop for access to justice throughout the EU – was launched on 16 July. This is the first phase of a multi-annual action programme in this area aimed at improving provision of information to bolster access to justice in the EU. The portal provides practical information on judicial systems and procedures in the EU, including how to institute proceedings, legal aid, mediation, and victims’ rights. It provides links to directories of lawyers, notaries and legal translators and interpreters. There are also links to business, insolvency and land registers. The website is available in 22 languages. See https://e-justice.europa.eu/home.do?lang=en&action=home .

Maximum fees for lawyers

On 6 July Advocate General Mazák gave his opinion in a case taken against Italy by the Commission regarding provisions which set a ceiling for lawyers’ fees in relation to court-based and out-of-court services. The Commission argued that this constitutes a restriction on freedom of establishment and also on the freedom to provide services, possibly making the Italian market in legal services unattractive for foreign professionals. The Advocate General is of the view that the Commission failed to prove that its supported system is mandatory and that there is no express prohibition against derogating from this regime. Therefore, in his opinion, the Commission case is unfounded.

Victims’ rights

The Commission is seeking views on the protection of victims of crime and violence across the EU. The consultation is open until 30 September and focuses on the protection and support of victims of crime and violence and ensuring access to justice. It will feed into a package of rules and practical measures expected in 2011. See http://ec.europa.eu/justice_home/ news/consulting_public/news_consulting_0053_en.htm .

Letter of rights introduced

On 20 July the Commission proposed a directive on the right to information in criminal proceedings. This proposal is the second step in a series of measures to set common EU standards in criminal cases, the first being the adoption of the directive on rights to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings. Prosecutors will be required to make sure suspects are given information on their rights in the form of a “letter of rights”. This letter, given to a suspect on arrest (whether or not requested), will be written in plain language and translated if necessary into a language they understand. Police authorities will be expected to keep copies in all languages commonly spoken in the locality. In the instance of a suitable copy not being available, the letter will be delivered orally to the suspect until a written copy is available.

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