The Directive on the Presumption of Innocence: A Missed Opportunity for Legal Persons?

The recently adopted Directive on the strengthening of certain aspects of the presumption of innocence and the right to be present at trial in criminal proceedings (hereafter: Directive on the Presumption of Innocence) applies exclusively to natural persons. This is in contrast to previously adopted directives of the Roadmap for strengthening procedural rights in criminal proceedings which applied to suspected or accused persons and did not explicitly exclude legal persons. Herefore, one could argue that legal persons could benefit from the implementation of relevant provisions of the previously adopted directives of the Roadmap but that they cannot infer rights from the Directive on the Presumption of Innocence.

Limiting the scope of application of the Directive on the Presumption of Innocence to natural persons was an explicit choice of the EU legislator. The legislative history of the Directive shows that the European Parliament tried to broaden its scope in order to cover legal persons. However, the Council, supported by the Commission, rejected the Parliament’s approach. In support of its arguments, the Council and the Commission referred to several considerations that have now been incorporated into the recitals of the Directive. Accordingly, the EU legislator considered the needs and levels of protection for individuals and legal persons with regard to certain aspects of the presumption of innocence to differ. The EU legislator hereby relies on the case law of the Court of Justice. It has held that the rights stemming from the presumption of innocence do not accrue equally to both categories of persons. Ultimately, the recitals recall that, in light of national law, as well as of Union law and national case law, legislative action with regard to legal persons is considered premature. These arguments raise several interesting issues.

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