Recent developments in the EU, including the proposed European Public Prosecutor's Office; access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings; public procurement

EU to have a prosecutor

On 17 July 2013 the Commission published a proposal for a regulation on a European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), to investigate and prosecute cases of fraud or other illegal activity affecting the financial interests of the EU in participating member states.

Complex negotiations will follow as to what form the EPPO will take and what its role will be. There is also a question as to which member states will participate, as the initiative is widely expected to progress under the enhanced co-operation procedure for which the support of at least nine member states is required. Denmark has already opted out, and the UK has stated that it does not wish to participate as the proposals are currently set out. However, the UK can voluntarily opt in at a later date, in accordance with the Lisbon Treaty rules.

Prosecutions would take place in the national courts of participating member states, which courts may also be required to authorise the use of certain powers by the EPPO and would oversee judicial reviews of challenges to the exercise of the EPPO’s powers.

The Commission hopes to see its proposal approved by 2015.

Access to lawyer proposal agreed

On 28 May, provisional agreement was reached between the European Parliament and Council on the proposal for a directive on the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings and on the right to communicate on arrest. This is the third instrument in the procedural rights roadmap, and follows the measures agreed on the right to interpretation and translation and on the right to information in criminal proceedings, which have been supported by solicitors.

In the agreed text, suspects or accused persons will have the right of access to a lawyer before they are questioned by the police and without undue delay. It is expected that formal adoption of the directive by the Parliament and Council will take place after the summer break.

The UK Law Societies have been active in providing input throughout the process and will study the new text carefully.

Public procurement reform ahead

On 17 July, member state representatives unanimously approved the new package on public procurement, following agreement in late June between the Parliament and Council negotiators.

The reformed public procurement rules aim to make procedures simpler and more flexible, to encourage greater inclusion of common societal goals in the procurement process and to remove barriers for market access by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The revision also abolishes the distinction between so-called A and B services, and instead introduces a “light regime” for social services and other services with no significant cross-border economic interest.

Legal services will, as a general rule, fall under the light regime, with certain exemptions that will be fully excluded from the scope of the directive.

The European Parliament is set to approve the new rules in the autumn.

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