EU ministers agree on rights of defendants tried in absentia

7th June 2008, Comments 0 comments

EU comes to an agreement on rules regarding in absentia trials

Luxembourg -- European Union justice ministers agreed on Friday to recognise and improve the rights of defendants who are tried in absentia in a different member state.

The agreement will allow member states to "enforce each other's judgements in absolute confidence that adequate safeguards are in place for defendants who were convicted in their absence," said a statement from the British government, which had pushed for the initiative.

In absentia trials are allowed in France, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece, but not in northern European countries such as Germany or Britain. Rules governing in absentia trials also vary from country to country.

Once the clarified rules come into force, defendants across the EU will need to be properly notified that they are under trial and will have to be given the chance to ask for a retrial.

Officials say the improved rules will help reduce delaying tactics and make European-wide arrest warrants more effective.

Italy, which frequently resorts to in absentia trials to bring members of the Mafia to justice, agreed to Friday's compromise after withdrawing its initial reservations.

And Germany, another member state that had expressed doubts about the initiative, said its desire to have the rights of defendants strengthened had been met.

"Any reservations we had last time have been overcome," said German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries at her arrival in Luxembourg.

Friday's agreement only clarifies current rules, since previous attempts to harmonise them across the EU's 27 member states have failed.

Justice ministers were, however, expected to make far less progress over EU attempts to stop "divorce shopping"-a practice whereby separating spouses battle for the most favourable settlement in different EU courts-because of a Swedish veto.

Slovenian Justice Minister Lovro Sturm, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said some member states may now go ahead and arrange separate deals with each other rather than wait for an EU-wide agreement.

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