Article 47 - Right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial
Article 48 - Presumption of innocence and right of defence
Article 51 - Field of application
Key facts of the case:
Reference for a preliminary ruling — Article 325 TFEU — Fraud or any other illegal activities affecting the financial interests of the European Union in customs matters — Effectiveness of prosecution — Closure of criminal proceedings — Reasonable time — Directive 2012/13/EU — Right of a person to be informed of the charges against him — Right of access to case materials — Directive 2013/48/EU — Right of access to a lawyer.
Outcome of the case:
On those grounds, the Court (Grand Chamber) hereby rules:
Article 7(3) of that directive must be interpreted as meaning that it is for the national court to be satisfied that the defence has been granted a genuine opportunity to have access to the case materials, such access being possible, in some cases, after the lodging before the court of the indictment that initiates the trial stage of the proceedings, but before that court begins to examine the merits of the charges and before the commencement of any hearing of argument by that court, and after the commencement of that hearing but before the stage of deliberation where new evidence is placed in the file in the course of proceedings, provided that all necessary measures are taken by the court in order to ensure respect for the rights of the defence and the fairness of the proceedings.
6) Recitals 10, 14, 27, 28 and 41 of Directive 2012/13 state:
‘(10) Common minimum rules should lead to increased confidence in the criminal justice systems of all Member States, which, in turn, should lead to more efficient judicial cooperation in a climate of mutual trust. Such common minimum rules should be established in the field of information in criminal proceedings. ...
(14) This Directive ... lays down common minimum standards to be applied in the field of information about rights and about the accusation to be given to persons suspected or accused of having committed a criminal offence, with a view to enhancing mutual trust among Member States. This Directive builds on the rights laid down in the Charter, and in particular Articles … 47 and 48 thereof, by building upon [Article 6] ECHR as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights ...
(27) Persons accused of having committed a criminal offence should be given all the information on the accusation necessary to enable them to prepare their defence and to safeguard the fairness of the proceedings. (28) The information provided to suspects or accused persons about the criminal act they are suspected or accused of having committed should be given promptly, and at the latest before their first official interview by the police or another competent authority, and without prejudicing the course of ongoing investigations. A description of the facts, including, where known, time and place, relating to the criminal act that the persons are suspected or accused of having committed and the possible legal classification of the alleged offence should be given in sufficient detail, taking into account the stage of the criminal proceedings when such a description is given, to safeguard the fairness of the proceedings and allow for an effective exercise of the rights of the defence.
(41) … In particular, this Directive seeks to promote … the right to a fair trial and the rights of the defence. …’
10) Recital 12 of Directive 2013/48 states: ‘This Directive lays down minimum rules concerning the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings ... In doing so, it promotes the application of the Charter, in particular Articles … 47 and 48 thereof, by building upon [Article 6] ECHR, as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights. …’
40) First, the referring court might decide to disapply the time limits laid down in Article 369 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and, consequently, allow the prosecutor greater time to cure the identified irregularities in the issuing of the indictment and in disclosure to the accused of the charges and the investigation file, before the case was again brought before the court. The referring court is uncertain however as to what specific measures it ought to take in order to protect the right of those individuals to have their case heard within a reasonable time, enshrined in the second paragraph of Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’).
68) In that context, and in light of the fact that the criminal proceedings at issue constitute an implementation of, in particular, Article 325(1) TFEU and, therefore, of EU law, within the meaning of Article 51(1) of the Charter (see, by analogy, judgment of 20 March 2018, Menci, C‑524/15, EU:C:2018:197, paragraph 21), the referring court must also satisfy itself that the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Charter to the accused persons in the main proceedings are respected. Those rights cannot be defeated by the obligation to ensure the effective collection of the Union’s resources (see, to that effect, judgments of 29 March 2012, Belvedere Costruzioni, C‑500/10, EU:C:2012:186, paragraph 23, and of 5 December 2017, M.A.S. and M.B., C‑42/17, EU:C:2017:936, paragraphs 46 and 52).
69) In particular, as regards the conduct of criminal proceedings, in the first place, it is the duty of the referring court to take the measures necessary to ensure respect for the rights of the defence, guaranteed by Article 48(2) of the Charter, in particular the right of an individual to be informed of the charges against him and to have access to the case materials. Since those rights are more specifically the subject matter of the second set of questions submitted by the referring court, reference is made to paragraphs 78 to 100 of the present judgment.
71) In that regard, it must be stated that that right constitutes a general principle of EU law (see, to that effect, judgment of 17 December 1998, Baustahlgewebe v Commission, C‑185/95 P, EU:C:1998:608, paragraph 21), enshrined in Article 6(1) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, signed in Rome on 4 November 1950, and in the second paragraph of Article 47 of the Charter with respect to the trial procedure. In criminal law, that right must be respected not only during the trial procedure, but also during the stage of the preliminary investigation, from the moment when the person concerned becomes an accused (see, by analogy, ECtHR, 15 July 2002, Affaire stratégies et communications et Dumoulin v. Belgium, CE:ECHR:2002:0715JUD003737097, § 39, and ECtHR, 10 September 2010, McFarlane v. Ireland, CE:ECHR:2010:0910JUD003133306, § 143).
88) In that regard, it is apparent from recitals 10 and 14 of Directive 2012/13 that the aim of that directive is, by means of the establishment of common minimum rules governing the right to information in criminal proceedings, to increase the mutual confidence of the Member States in their respective criminal justice systems. As stated, in essence, in recital 14 and also in recital 41 of Directive 2012/13, to that end the directive builds on the rights laid down in, inter alia, Articles 47 and 48 of the Charter and seeks to promote those rights.
104) As is stated, in essence, in recital 12 of that directive, the aims of that directive include the promotion of the right to be advised, defended and represented laid down in the second paragraph of Article 47 of the Charter and of the rights of the defence guaranteed by Article 48(2) of the Charter.
105) As stated in the Explanations relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights (OJ 2007 C 303, p. 17), Article 48(2) of the Charter corresponds to Article 6(3) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and has the same meaning and scope as the latter, in accordance with Article 52(3) of the Charter.