Two more Convention-compliant applications by the CJEU of Directive 2012/13 on the right to information in criminal proceedings

In two recent judgments, the CJEU applied Directive 2012/13 on the right to information in criminal proceedings. In contrast with some previous case-law, it thereby more explicitly ensured the compatibility of its rulings with the Strasbourg jurisprudence. It did so by not only drawing on the latter, but also explaining its relevance in a EU law context and considering it, in accordance with Article 52(3) of the EU-Charter, as mandatory minimum protection level (see Convention control, at p. 336).

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In Politseyski organ pri 02 RU SDVR (C-608/21, 25.5.2023), the CJEU clarified the obligations of the national authorities regarding the form and the content of the communication of the grounds for detention to an arrested person. As regards the form, it ruled that Article 6(2) of Directive 2012/13 did not require the grounds for detention to be all mentioned in the detention order, provided that the information communicated to the arrested person allowed them to effectively prepare their defence and ensured the fairness of the proceedings. On the content of the information, it held that the level of details as regards the grounds for detention could be adapted to the stage of the criminal proceedings, provided that the arrested person was provided with all the information necessary to effectively challenge the lawfulness of their detention.

On both issues, the CJEU should be commended for referring to the relevant jurisprudence of the ECtHR supporting its findings (Shamayev and Others v. Georgia and Russia, Khlaifia and Others v. Italy, S. V. and A. v. Denmark) and using that jurisprudence not only as a toolbox but also as a benchmark. Such a wholistic approach represents a significant contribution to legal harmony and certainty in the field of fundamental rights (see Convention control, at p. 335).

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In K.B. and F.S. (C-660/21, 22.6.2023), a Grand Chamber of the CJEU had to rule on the compatibility with Union law of Article 385 of the French Code of Criminal Procedure which, as interpreted by the Court of Cassation, prohibits trial courts from raising of their own motion, with a view to the annulment of the procedure, a breach of the obligation laid down in Articles 3 and 4 of Directive 2012/13, read in the light of Articles 47 and 48 of the EU-Charter, to inform suspects and accused persons promptly of their right to remain silent. In the case at hand, the two suspects had not been properly informed of their right to remain silent and made self-incriminating statements during their interrogation by the police.

The CJEU noted that under Article 8(2) of Directive 2012/13, suspects or accused persons or their lawyers have the right to challenge, in accordance with procedures in national law, the possible failure or refusal of the competent authorities to provide information in accordance with that directive, which included situations in which information about the right to remain silent had been given late, as in the present case. However, that directive did not provide for the possibility for a trial court to raise a breach of that obligation of its own motion (§ 39).

The CJEU filled this lacuna by relying on the right to an effective remedy, the right to a fair hearing and the rights of defence, as laid down in Articles 47 and 48(2) of the EU-Charter, which the application of the said provisions of Directive 2012/13 had to comply with. In referring to those provisions of the EU-Charter, the CJEU also indicated that pursuant to Article 52(3) of the EU-Charter, their application had to take account of the corresponding rights guaranteed by Articles 6 and 13 of the Convention, as interpreted by the ECtHR, as the minimum threshold of protection (§ 41).

This meant that the suspects, the accused persons or their lawyers had to be afforded a practical and effective opportunity to invoke the breach concerned and a reasonable period of time within which to do so, in addition to access to the file.  This, in turn, required a practical and effective access to a lawyer, as provided for by Article 3 of Directive 2013/48 (§§ 43-45). The CJEU usefully relied in this connection on Salduz v. Turkey. One could also have added Simeonovi v. Bulgaria and Beuze v. Belgium.

Interestingly, in the CJEU’s opinion, a successful challenge of the failure to properly inform an accused of their right to remain silent does not automatically give rise, as suggested by the reliance of the French courts on Article 385 of the French Code of Criminal Procedure, to the annulment of the proceedings. Instead, referring to Ibrahim and Others v. United Kingdom,the CJEU adopted the Strasbourg approach, according to which the fairness of proceedings is to be assessed by considering these proceedings as a whole, regard thus being had to the possibility that a procedural shortcoming may have been remedied in the course of the ensuing proceedings (§ 48). In this respect, this ruling is a confirmation of HYA and Others, which appears to have applied for the first time the Strasbourg test of the proceedings as a whole.

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Overall, these two judgments seem to confirm a commendable trend towards greater convergence in matters of criminal procedure between Luxembourg and Strasbourg (see Luxembourg case-law on procedural rights), with the CJEU relying more explicitly on the relevant Strasbourg jurisprudence not only as a toolbox but also as a benchmark, i.e. as mandatory minimum protection level, thereby protecting domestic judges from falling below that level when applying EU law.

It remains to be seen, though, whether in follow-up cases concerning the same issues, the CJEU will remain as explicit on its Strasbourg sources as in those two cases. The CJEU indeed seems to have made a habit of referring to relevant Strasbourg case-law only once, i.e. the first time it is relied on, all subsequent references being made only to its own case-law incorporating that piece of Strasbourg case-law. As a result, readers of the Luxembourg follow-up judgments who do not know about the very first reference to that Strasbourg case-law are left in the dark as to its real impact in the follow-up cases and the resulting substantive convergence between Strasbourg and Luxembourg on this score. This approach blurs the picture and creates a false appearance of autonomy (see, for examples, Convention control at p. 341).