The ECBA is going places and this time we hit the wonderful "diamond" city of Antwerp. Indeed we started our conference at the Diamantmuseum next to the Antwerp Zoo.

On Saturday our main theme was “How to bring justice into evidence gathering?” and our chairman Holger Matt opened the event by giving a short overview about the actual developments as well as the future perspective regarding procedural safeguards on the European level.

We then had the opportunity to listen to a video speech by Mrs. Reding, the Vice-President of the European Commission, who gave us real hope regarding procedural rights and claimed that we should all try to rebuild citizens' trust in such instruments. She also pointed out that it is simply unacceptable that the ECtHR had to declare about 6.000 infringements of Art 6 ECHR in 2009 alone. This might be the best incentive to promote procedural rights.

Peter Csonka, Head of Unit Criminal Justice at the European Commission then gave as insight on “EU legislation on obtaining evidence from another Member State and ensuring its admissibility as well as the issue of legal privileges”. He pointed out that the Stockholm Program of 2009 obliges the Commission to produce a legislative proposal for a comprehensive regime on obtaining evidence in criminal matters based on the principle of mutual recognition and covering all types of evidence as well as a legislative proposal to introduce common standards for gathering evidence. The Commission is therefore working at the moment to achieve this. Mr. Csonka went through all the exisiting legislative acts in this field and showed ways in which they would have to be transformed according to Stockholm. He furthermore made it clear that at the moment there is no EU-legislation on the admissibility of evidence in criminal matters and that accordingly there are no common standards in this field, which is an obstacle to cooperation between member states. As a future perspective Csonka announced that the Commission will present a proposal on evidence gathering starting in 2011, which – once it comes into force – should replace all existing instruments in this field.

The next speaker was Mr. E. Francis, Second President of the Court of Appeals in Belgium, who presented the “Belgian Central Office for seizure and confiscation”, which has existed since 2003. The tasks of this unit are to handle freezing orders regarding bank accounts as well as all other yields that result out of criminal activities, seizure orders and advising the police forces in this field. As soon as valuable objects have been seized the unit carries on with the administration for them so they do not rot as they sometimes did in the past. The unit even has the right to sell some of these objects (e.g. cars) and put money in an account, so that they do not lose their value during the course of the procedure. Francis pointed out that there is still a problem in coping with all this work within the reasonable time limit of Art 6 1 ECHR. He quoted the case of Jouan vs. Belgium.

Vania Costas Ramos then presented the ECBA view on evidence and legal privileges. She made it clear that the ECBA rejects the idea of the Commission abolishing all existing instruments in the field of evidence gathering and replacing them by one single instrument. The reasons are that there are still no procedural safe guards for the accused, as well as feasibility issues and the main question remains as to whether this change is really necessary. The ECBA therefore supports a step by step approach. Csonka reassured us that the concerns of the ECBA will definitely be taken into consideration.

Later on Caroline Morgan, Criminal Justice Unit of the European Commission, gave us once more a short overview on the status quo of the procedural safeguards issue and the works of the Commission in this field. She has hope that the political climate in this matter has become milder after the Lisbon Treaty as the European Parliament gets more involved in this field. Experience teaches her that at least the idea of procedural safe guards has sunk in and she also approves the step by step approach. The three steps that the Commission is working on right now are a.) the right of interpretation between lawyer and client, b.) right of information (letter of rights) and c.) access to legal advice/ legal aid.

After our colleagues Peter Engels (Cross Border Financial Crime) and Scott Crosby (Anti-Trust) had given an update on the working groups, Jodie Blackstock gave an insight on best practice in EAW cases and Lisa Katschinka presented the new cooperation between the ECBA and EULITA.

Later on Stefan Schumann talked about the “Pre-trial emergency Defence” project that is being undertaken by the ECBA, together with the Austrian Criminal Bar Association as well as the Universities of Graz and Ljubljana. The final results of this project will be presented at the ECBA autumn conference this year in Ljubljana.   

In the afternoon a panel of four lawyers from different jurisdictions went through a case concerning pre-trial proceedings that was presented by Louise Hodges. They gave their national expertise on the structure of proceedings, the protection of the lawyer-client relationship and possible legal measures taken by prosecution and defence.

The conference was closed by our “classic”, the national reports on recent developments and ended in a reception at the town hall and an exceptional dinner at the Antwerp Zoo.


Report by Roland Kier