The European Criminal Bar Association (ECBA) is a leading group of independent criminal defence lawyers in the Council of Europe

The ECBA has as one of its main aims to persuade the EU to set up a viable system of legal aid for Defence Lawyers in Europe. The reason for this is because procedural abuses in most of the EU states exist as a result of there being no or no adequate system of remuneration for defence lawyers to represent the defendant, the accused person, or the person under investigation.

The case-law of the ECHR has recently been improved to make it clear that the rights of the defendant do not start at the charging process or later, but when the accused is in the police station. The ECBA has already published a set of Codes of Practice to which member States should adhere in relation to when legal aid should be provided.

There is an almost universal recognition amongst EU defence lawyers that there should be a Common set of rules or a Framework Decision on the provision of Legal Aid in criminal proceedings, and especially those relating to European Arrest Warrants. Our ECBA members decided long ago that the only sensible solution to "cross-border" cases and EA Ws was that a defendant should have access to a defence lawyer in both the requested state and the requesting state.
The Joint Project currently in progress between the ECBA and the CCBE has entered the Final Report Stage, and further meetings are planned in October to put the finishing touches to it. The Project Steering Committee has consulted with more than 60 practising lawyers in three Member States, and has obtained the responses to written questionnaires from a further five member states. Unanimous agreement has emerged that lawyers are in the front line as far as protecting the rights of the accused person is concerned, and that the chief barrier to most of the problems lies in the absence of proper funding. The principle of "mutual recognition" is meaningless in practice when the provision of legal aid differs dramatically between member states, and this is starkly apparent in EA Wand cross-border cases.
The ECBA considers that this Project must find a way to improve the provision of Legal Aid for the Defence in criminal cases in the EU, and at the very least a Pilot Project must explore ways of establishing guidelines and an effective means for the delivery of legal aid to the accused in European Arrest Warrant and other cross-border cases.

JONATHAN STUART MITCHELL
Member of the ECBA/CCBE Joint Steering Committee
Member of the ECBA Advisory Board.