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EU Justice and Home Affairs Council in favour of strengthening rights in judicial cooperation in criminal cases

The President of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council, Minister Dr Lovro Šturm, headed the final meeting of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council during the Slovenian Presidency. At the meeting, Dr Šturm informed the ministers that the Slovenian Presidency, in the co-decision procedure with the European Parliament, succeeded in reaching an agreement on the Directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law in the first reading. Thus, the co-decision procedure was successfully concluded, facilitating the adoption of this very important instrument for effective protection of the environment. “Yesterday, on World Environment Day, we reiterated the extreme importance of the environment. The Presidency assesses that the protection of the environment is an area that needs special attention,” emphasised Minister Šturm in Luxembourg. A special paragraph in the draft Conclusions of the European Council is dedicated to the protection of the environment.

The Directive defines criminal offences such as discharging dangerous substances into the air, water or soil, illegal transport of waste or illegal trafficking in endangered species, which all have devastating effects on human health and on the environment. The Directive also provides that penal sanctions for such criminal offences should be effective, proportionate and dissuasive, and address both natural and legal persons. It is expected that the Directive will significantly contribute to more effective implementation of environmental protection policy at the EU level.

Council President Dr Šturm also informed the ministers of the state of discussions on the proposal for a Directive on ship-source pollution. The Directive tries to protect the sea against accidental oil spills and the increasingly frequent illegal operational discharging of polluting substances from ships. “The main issues have been identified and we believe that good progress has been made in terms of open issues,” said Minister Šturm.

The ministers arrived at a common approach to the initiative for strengthening rights in the area of judicial cooperation in criminal matters in cases when the judgement against a defendant is imposed in his or her absence. The Framework Decision stresses the right to a fair trial and the right to be present at the trial pursuant to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Four framework decisions based on the principle of mutual recognition of judicial decisions already enable the enforcement of judgments imposed in absentia, but are not coherent in resolving this issue. This reduces legal certainty and hinders judicial cooperation and the work of legal practitioners. “With the proposal, we want to strengthen process rights in the case of enforcement of decisions rendered in absentia and also to improve the practical application of the principle of mutual recognition. We want to unify provisions regarding the enforcement of decisions rendered in absentia that are already contained in the existing framework conclusions,” asserted Minister Šturm.

The proposal does not bring harmonisation of national rules, but determines those circumstances that must be present in order for the enforcing state to implement a decision rendered in absentia. The defendant must be granted appropriate procedural rights, such as the condition of proper summons of the defendant to the main hearing or the obligation to inform the defendant of the possibility of issuing a decision if he/she fails to participate in the main hearing. If these standards have not been complied with, the state where the convicted person is located may reject a state request for his or her extradition. The further definition and implementation of the circumstances and conditions that are listed alternatively is left to the procedural rules of the individual Member States. The European Parliament must still issue an opinion on this document.

Today the ministers also adopted the Regulation on the law applicable to contractual obligations (Rome I). The regulation is a response to the increasing intensity of economic exchange where legal certainty is of key importance for economic operators and clients. The fundamental purpose of the regulation is increasing legal certainty of natural and legal persons who conclude contractual obligations involving cross-border situations, and the act encourages the autonomy of clients in their choice of applicable law. The regulation will replace and update the rules of the Rome Convention of 1980 on the law applicable to contractual obligations.

The Ministers reached broad consensus on the package of provisions in the proposal for a decision on the reinforcement of EUROJUST. The amendments will considerably improve its operational capacity. The legislative package regulates the permanent assistance of EUROJUST to national authorities in cases of urgency and grants certain competences to national members when they act as national authorities. The proposal also provides for improvement in the transfer of information to EUROJUST. A few additional urgent amendments may be made to the text. 

The ministers adopted guidelines and a compromise solution on key aspects of the EU Council Regulation on jurisdiction, on applicable law, on recognition and enforcement of judgments and on cooperation in maintenance obligation matters. The compromise solutions provide for abolishing the exequatur procedure for all maintenance creditors. Thus decisions on maintenance obligations can circulate freely between Member States, will be recognised without any intermediate procedures and will be enforceable in the EU area (except Denmark). This will enable maintenance creditors to enforce their rights more quickly and efficiently.

Dr Šturm also informed the ministers of the current status of the e-justice dossier and future plans in this area. On 29 April 2008, a prototype e-justice portal was opened on an experimental basis for States participating in the project of linking up insolvency registers. The portal will constitute a single online access point and will enable existing e-justice services to be linked. Further negotiations are being held in terms of the portal’s content regarding the integration of individual procedures (for example, automatisation of the procedure of the European payment order), further linking up of existing registers (insolvency, court, business and land registers) and criminal records and more frequent use of video conferencing. “For future high-quality work in the e-justice field, it is very important to provide appropriate funds for projects that cover different areas of law, both civil and criminal fields,” declared Minister Šturm. 


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Date: 06.06.2008