EPPO, procedural safeguards and impartiality and independence of judges and prosecutors

Venice, the “Queen of the Adriatic Sea”, the city with 118 islands and more than 400 bridges, was the spectacular venue of the ECBA Autumn 2013 Conference.

Lawyers, judges and academics from all corners of Europe and beyond flocked to the Conference, attracted by the highly interesting topic regarding the role of the ambitious European Public Prosecutor’s Office, procedural safeguards, and impartiality and independence of judges and prosecutors.

The Friday evening saw ECBA delegates warmly welcomed by Mr Grandese, President of the Venetian Bar, at a cocktail reception, held in the 12th-century cloister of Sant’Apollonia, the oldest surviving cloister in Venice and today part of the Museo Diocesano di Venezia (Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art).

The next day the Conference was opened by Prof. Holger Matt, the ECBA Chair, who set the Conference tone, assuring delegates that the ECBA will continue to safeguard defence rights at a pan-European level as the pre-eminent defence lawyers association. “Europe is our future,” he concluded emphatically.

Mr Renato Alberini, President of “Camera Penale Veneziana” (Venetian Criminal Bar), then took his turn, highlighting the need for closer international cooperation for the achievement of our mutual goals.

The heated debate about the future European Public Prosecutor's Office was led by Mr Peter Csonka from the European Commission, Ms Michelle Coninsx, President of Eurojust and Mr Vino Monetti, Prosecutor General of the Court of Appeal in Genova. The common conclusion was that the new institution would play a crucial role in, and be indispensable for, respect of human rights in proceedings.

Caroline Morgan and Mauro Miranda, both from the European Commission, gave a clear overview on the Directive on Access to a Lawyer, in an energetic joint presentation whose passion keenly held the attention of the audience.

The impartiality and independence of judges and prosecutors was under the spotlight of the afternoon session. Eminent lawyers (Mr Robin Grey  from the United Kingdom and  Carmele Parziale from  Italy) and distinguished Prosecutors (Mr Olivier de Baynast, General Prosecutor at the Court of Douai and Mr Vito Monetti, Prosecutor General of the Court of Appeal in Genova) revealed aspects and proposed reforms that can effectively promote the cause for Justice Independence.

ECBA projects and working groups were also presented at the Conference:

Mr Scott Crosby, ECBA Human Rights Officer, described with dark colours the restrictions on lawyers' freedom of expression in Turkey.  He raised deep concerns about the lawyers arrested and detained for the exercise of their profession and the pending trial against the President of the Istanbul Bar. The ECBA, through Mr Scott, will be present during the public trial in Istanbul as a European observer in terms of the rule of law and the Basic Principles.

Mr Holger Matt introduced the Training Projects which ECBA undertakes jointly with ERA, offering training for defence lawyers in the EU Member States.

The delicate definition of vulnerable suspects, and the special protection the latter are entitled to, was the focus of Mr Bertil Dahl's contribution.

Mr Kai Hart-Hoenig expressed views and interesting points on the issue of the presumption of innocence, as an indispensable prerequisite of the Fair Trial principle.

Ms Vania Costa Ramos presented the ECBA partnership with EULITA in the Qualetra Project, aimed at ensuring that the basic rights of other-language suspected and accused persons are protected sufficiently through legal translation.

Ms Johanna Engström from the European Commission explained the state of play of the EC's ambitious new package regarding Measure C2 and Measure E, Presumption of Innocence, a plan that envisages significantly changing Europe's legal horizon.

In the last part of the session, Mr Vladimir Hrle introduced to delegates the New Serbian Criminal Procedure Code, Mr Aurelian Hammelle reported on developments from the French Constitutional Court and Mr Hans Van de Wal reported on VAT for lawyers in Belgium.

The ECBA, always present and active on the ground, with this Conference reprised the leading role in the field of defence rights in the ever changing European environment.


Report written by Alexis Anagnostakis