EU offenders to get better rights if tried abroad

28th January 2008, Comments 0 comments

Officials try to clarify the rules on trials in absentia.

Brdo, Slovenia (dpa) - Criminal suspects - but also ordinary Germans or Britons who cause trouble while on holiday in the Mediterranean - are to be granted better rights when tried in a different European Union member state, officials said.

At an informal meeting in Slovenia Saturday, EU justice ministers agreed to clarify rules governing in particular trials in absentia - court cases in which a defendant is sentenced even if he or she does not attend the proceedings.

In absentia trials are allowed in France, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece, but not in northern European countries such as Germany or Britain, which pushed for Saturday's agreement. 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.

"It is always important to improve the rights of EU citizens," said German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries ahead of the meeting.

The improved rules would apply to offences committed by any EU citizen while in another member state.

Officials said they would help reduce delaying tactics and make European-wide arrest warrants more effective.

Requests for extradition using the EU arrest warrant have sometimes failed because of unclear rules governing such cases, experts say.

One insider also noted that Italy and Germany have at times clashed over Italian prosecutors' efforts to sentence former Nazi officials for war crimes committed in Italy during World War II.

The move is also likely to be welcomed by anyone who has found himself in the unfortunate situation of discovering that he has been sentenced for some offence committed while on holiday only long after returning home.

"We believe that rights and procedural guarantees (concerning trials held in absentia) should be clearly set out and defined. This would improve legal certainty for citizens and would also improve the implementation of the principle of mutual recognition (among EU member states)," said Slovenian Justice Minister Lovro Sturm, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the 27-member bloc.

The provisional agreement reached on Saturday only clarifies current rules, since previous attempts to harmonize them across the EU's 27 member states have failed.

Member states hope to formally adopt the clarified rules by the end of June, when the Slovenian presidency expires.

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