This year’s theme is the right to legal aid in criminal matters and the right to have access to a lawyer while detained in prison.
“Legal aid is an essential tool in ensuring access to justice,” says Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) president José de Freitas.
The CCBE says that lawyers defend the rule of law by acting against unlawful situations and defending citizens’ rights.
The rule of law is, together with human rights, a cornerstone of European democracy, the CCBE says.
“Access to justice is a fundamental right and an essential part and instrument of human rights, stipulated and protected by Article Six of the European Convention on Human Rights,” de Freitas continues.
Access to justice regardless of social or economic position is one of the main pillars of the rule of law and individual dignity, he says.
“It is the duty of states and governments to guarantee, organise and finance such legal aid systems which permit those with the least means to obtain access to justice, and which cover the cost of legal advice, defence and representation by legal professionals.”
The CCBE has urged Member States to fulfil their obligations under the recent EU Directive on legal aid for suspects and accused persons in criminal proceedings, and for those subject to European Arrest Warrant proceedings.
The Directive was implemented in May 2019, with work on it going back as far as 2009, with the adoption of a roadmap for an agreed framework on harmonising criminal procedural standards within the EU.
The goal was to ensure the fairness of criminal proceedings and thereby, the rights of citizens, by strengthening mutual trust in the judicial systems of Member States.
The CCBE points out that the Directive is the result of extensive compromises and must be applied correctly by Member States.
It urges practitioners to familiarise themselves with the exact wording of the Directive in order to understand their objectives and to be aware of the rights which flow from it and whether these are being complied with at national level.
“Essentially, these rights have little value unless they are identified, enforced and defended,” the CCBE says.
“The EU institutions have done their work, and now it is time for individual Member States and practitioners to honour their side.”
Since clients are unlikely to be aware of their ‘new’ rights, it is the practitioner’s responsibility to become familiar with the legislation, the CCBE concludes.
European Lawyers Day has been celebrated since 2014.