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SPEECH/11/371Viviane RedingVice-President of the European Commission, EU JusticeCommissionerMoving Justice centre-stagePlenary session of the Council of Bars and Law Societies ofEurope (CCBE)Luxembourg, 21 May 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen,It is a great pleasure for me to be taking part in your plenary this morning.I am conscious that I am the first Commissioner with dedicated responsibilities forthe Justice portfolio. That brings with it the need to understand the concerns of thelegal profession. In that respect, the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europeis a most valued organisation, bringing together Europes different legalprofessions to promote law and justice. Your members are working on the front-lineof the day-to-day delivery of justice, working both with Europes citizens and withEuropes businesses. Your insights, and concerns, are therefore invaluable to mein my work to give flesh and substance to core principles like "access to justice"and "mutual recognition" which lie at the heart of the Commissions agenda for thecoming years.I do not forget also the important role that the legal profession has played in thedevelopment of the European Union, a construction built entirely on the rule of law.Without the contribution of your members, seeking to assert the rights of theirclients, the European Union would most certainly be a very different entity, farremoved from its citizens and businesses.The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty gives us now a very special opportunity toshape the area of justice in a way that is responsive to the real needs of thoseusing it. The Lisbon Treaty moved the Justice agenda centre-stage.Your conference programme reflects the importance of reform in the area of civiljustice. The aim of this reform process is twofold: firstly, it will help Europe recoverfrom the economic and financial crisis. Secondly, new proposals on civil justiceadapt our legal systems to a changing reality in our societies. 12 million Europeancitizens live in a Member State other than their own, growing numbers of citizenslive in a bi-national marriage or partnership, some people own a holiday homeabroad, and a number of Member States have introduced registered partnershipswhile others have not done so. People shop across borders, both on- and offline,or they inherit property in another Member State than the one they live in. Thereare many situations in the life of a European that can get terribly complicatedbecause it is unclear which law applies if something goes wrong or if the civil statusof a person changes. This is not only a challenge for citizens but also forbusinesses.Justice for growthWith our upcoming measures in the area of contract law, debt recovery or therecent proposal on the cross-border recognition of judgments in commercialmatters (Brussels I) we want to make it easier to do business in the Single Market.We call it Justice for Growth.We must play our part in the justice area to lighten the regulatory burden, give legalcertainty to companies, and to protect consumers. All of this will speed up the exitfrom the financial and economic crisis, and will enable both consumers andbusinesses to make use of the opportunities the Single Market offers.Civil JusticeTake for example the revision of the Brussels I Regulation, aimed at removingextra costs and legal uncertainty faced by citizens and businesses. 2
The major reform we are proposing is the abolition of the "exequatur" procedure forthe cross-border recognition of judgments in civil and commercial matters. On anEU average, exequatur costs € 2.200 in a straightforward case, and at up to 12months it can be lengthy, too. Exequatur is thus in most cases an unnecessary, yetexpensive formality.The Brussels I reform will also benefit international litigation. We are proposingchanges aimed at an efficient protection of the choice of court and arbitrationagreements in the Union.We know that the overwhelming majority of EU businesses involved in cross-bordertrade make use of choice of court agreements. The evaluation of the Regulationhad shown that such agreements can be circumvented too easily under currentrules and that this creates unnecessary litigation, thus triggering costs and delaysfor businesses. The changes we are proposing will enhance the effectiveness ofsuch agreements and will better ensure respect for party autonomy.Similarly, we are proposing changes to strengthen the effect of arbitrationagreements in Europe. Our studies have shown that parties can effectively obstructarbitration agreements by shopping around in Europe trying to get the agreementdeclared invalid. This creates again unnecessary litigation, leading to extra costsand delays. As a result of the proposed changes, the risk for parallel proceedingswill be removed, abusive litigation tactics will be countered and no irreconcilabledecisions will circulate in Europe.Another important initiative will be on cross border debt recovery. I will present inJuly a legislative proposal to facilitate cross-border debt recovery through betterenforcement. It will be a new self-standing European procedure available tocitizens and companies in addition to existing national procedures.The aim is to enable a creditor to preserve, as security for the debt owed, moneyheld by his debtor in one or several bank accounts within the territory of theEuropean Union. The proposal will contribute to the recovery of a proportion of baddebt, to the reduction of cost and to simplification in judicial proceedings. It willbring legal certainty to cross-border trade and inspire confidence and paymentmorale.Let me turn to the recent initiatives on family law, important elements of justicefor citizens.In March, the Commission adopted two proposals on matrimonial property regimesand on property consequences of registered partnerships. It was high time the EUacted because there are more and more couples living in a Member State of whichthey do not have nationality, or they acquire property in another Member State thanthe one they live in.In total, there are around 16 million such international couples across the EU. Of2.4 million marriages celebrated in the EU in 2007, about 300 000 involved morethan one nationality. Around one fifth of registered partnerships in the EU has aninternational dimension.The two proposals aim to provide clear rules for international couples and offerlegal certainty as regards their property rights, in particular when the couple splitsby divorce, separation or when one of the members of the couple dies. Theproposals do not intervene in any way into the recognition or legal definition of theinstitutions concerned. 3
The proposals are a logical step forward, implementing the principle of mutualrecognition in the family law area. They sit alongside the long-standing Brussels IIaRegulation on the jurisdiction and recognition of decisions in matrimonial matters. Ialso proposed the first measure of enhanced cooperation which provides rules todetermine the applicable divorce law. This enabled a breakthrough in the form ofthe Rome III Regulation, adopted last December. Finally, we have also theproposal on successions under the negotiations that is relevant for the situations ofdissolving a marriage or partnership.All these measures have one thing in common: they seek to simplify the lives ofcitizens in cross-border situations. The last thing anyone needs in one of thesedifficult moments is to be faced with unnecessarily complex legal questions.Criminal LawI will now turn to criminal law, an area which also features prominently on yourconference agenda.First of all, I would like to thank the Council of the Bars and Law Societies for theclose and fruitful cooperation on procedural rights going back 10 years. And Iremember with fondness addressing the 50th anniversary of the CCBE lastNovember and see for myself that, like me, you are pleased with the progress wehave made on procedural rights. A first directive on the right to interpretation andtranslation in criminal proceedings was adopted last October. We are well on ourway to the adoption of the second item on the procedural rights Roadmap, aDirective on the right to information in criminal proceedings. This means that theinformation on rights will be given in writing, in a "Letter of Rights" and includes, ofcourse, the fact that they are entitled to a lawyer. Our research shows that in half ofthe Member States, in 50% of cases, the accused person does not have a lawyer.Is this because they dont know their rights? Surely this plays a part. The Letter ofRights will make sure that everyone knows they are entitled to a lawyer. Thesecond part of the draft Directive, on access to information about the charge, wassomething that lawyers in the CCBE have been advocating for many years. I knowthat the CCBE will be particularly interested in the Directive on access to a lawyer,which I will be proposing next month. You, and your members, have maderecommendations to the Commission as to the content of the proposal. Your expertguidance has been much appreciated.European Arrest WarrantThe Commission has recently reported on the implementation of the EuropeanArrest Warrant system which has now been operational for over seven years. Ourreport provides an opportunity to take stock of both its successes andshortcomings. There is general agreement that Europe needs a robust andeffective extradition system to ensure serious cross-border crime is prosecuted andpunished with minimum delay. I am of the view that the European arrest warranthas provided such a system successfully. However, we should also flag up some ofthe systems shortcomings and take into consideration the fact that theCommission has been listening to stakeholders such as the CCBE, whosemembers have valuable experience of the system in practice.Improvement of the European arrest warrant system is directly linked to continuingto build mutual trust in Member States judicial systems, without which judicial co-operation cannot work. Arrest warrant issues have therefore informed theCommission’s ongoing work on the procedural rights of suspected or accusedpersons in criminal proceedings. 4
This is why the Commission calls for a proportionality check to be applied in thestate issuing the arrest warrant taking into account such issues as the seriousnessof the offence, the length of the sentence, and a cost/benefit analysis of theexecution of the warrant, This is an issue I will keep under review and re-visit inaccordance with the evidence, including that provided by interested parties such asthe CCBE. I hope I can count on your expertise for the continued improvement ofthe European Arrest Warrant.Victims of CrimeI have already spoken of the rights of the defence but as you know every crime hasa victim and every victim must have a voice and central role. That is why we arealso taking action to strengthen the rights of victims of crime.I have a simple vision – that victims are recognised, that their role in the criminaljustice system is recognised, that their suffering is recognised and that their needsare met – they should be at the heart of the criminal justice system. It is odd thatvictims of crime are so peripheral to the system that seeks to defend them.This means changing cultures and attitudes – our justice systems have not beendesigned with the victim in mind – they have been focussed on prosecuting theoffender and defending society.This approach is reflected in the treatment of victims. The European Union has inthe past taken action in this area through the 2001 Council Framework Decision onthe standing of victims. As a result Member States have acted to varying degrees.But at the end of the day, across the EU, people who have fallen victim to crime –up to 75 million every year, not to mention their families – are not having theirneeds met.This is why I presented on 18 May a Directive establishing minimum standards forvictims and a Regulation to ensure the protection they benefit from is not lost whenthey move abroad.We must ensure that victims are better recognised and treated with respect anddignity. We must ensure they are better protected from intimidation, repeatvictimisation and secondary victimisation during proceedings. Victims will havebetter access to quality support and better access to justice both in a formal settingand through mediation and other forms of restorative justice.Importantly, our action respects the right of the defence to a fair trial. Raisingstandards for victims will enable fairer justice across Europe without lowering therights of the defence.Ladies and Gentlemen,I have given you an overview of the most important initiatives this year, which willhelp us accelerating Europes exit from the economic and financial crisis, advanceprocedural rights, and build a comprehensive area of justice for our citizens andbusinesses. I know that I can count on your continued support and expertise totake this agenda forward. The Treaty of Lisbon has put Justice centre-stage. Withyour support we will ensure that the Justice agenda comes of age.Thank you. 5