A set of new rules and regulations for criminal legal aid proposed by the European Commission in 2013 have finally been agreed and are to be put into place. The Directive, which is rooted in fair trial rights in criminal proceedings, not only ensures the right to criminal legal aid but addresses the need for uniformity in legal aid systems across the EU.

Frans Timmermans, first Vice President of the EU Commission and Commissioner for Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, Rule of Law and Charter of Fundamental Rights commented:

Anyone who is the subject of criminal proceedings has a right to legal protection and a lawyer they can afford. The new rules put forth in the directive allow for suspects accused of a crime to benefit from legal aid in the form of financial or judicial support starting at the beginning of their involvement in the criminal justice system and will continue throughout the entire criminal proceedings.

The Directive aims to bring consistency to criminal legal aid systems across EU Member States. It provides that criminal legal aid be granted in a timely way to applicants, at the latest before questioning or investigation stage, and must follow clear criteria. Where a Member State applies a means test to assess financial eligibility, it must take into consideration relevant factors such as the accused person’s income, capital and family situation, the costs of legal assistance and standard of living. In applying a merits test, the Member State should take into account the seriousness of the offence, the complexity of the case and the severity of the penalty at stake, in order to determine whether the interests of justice require granting legal aid …

This is an extract from the PILA Bulletin of 27 October 2016

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