The High-Level Conference on "Protecting Vulnerable Adults in Europe – The Way Forward" was divided up into two large panels looking at different aspects of this subject.
While the panels on “Protecting vulnerable adults in cross-border situations in the European Union” and “The experience of the 2000 Hague Convention on International Protection of Adults” covered issues related to civil law, the panels on “Procedural safeguards for vulnerable adults in criminal proceedings – what measures still need to be taken in the EU?” and “Challenges in the protection of vulnerable victims and in the promotion of their participation in criminal proceedings – building bridges through victim strategy” dealt with criminal aspects of the protection of these adults.
The speeches reinforced the idea that all the Member States becoming parties to the 2000 Hague Convention would assure a uniform legal framework, using pre-existing structures and capitalising on efforts and results, tackling the substantial shortcomings and obstacles to the exercise of rights. However, the speeches also made it clear that while it is important to assess the experience and results of the application of the convention, the European Union must be more ambitious and try to go further.
Looking at some technical aspects, it was mentioned that the current European legal framework is more detailed in the criminal scope than in the civil scope and, as such, the work to be done will imply less legislative action, focusing more on the support structures, operationalisation and the optimisation of existing mechanisms. In order to protect people whose abilities are somehow limited, it will also be necessary to reformulate the “2009 roadmap for strengthening procedural rights of suspected or accused persons in criminal proceedings” and the instruments for this.
With the aim of ensuring equal access to law and justice in all the Member States and in particular fair and equitable proceedings without the right to defence being affected by vulnerable conditions, the need to implement the European Strategy on Victims was highlighted, as well as the need to assure full application of Directive 2012/29/EU and all the other instruments that include specific provisions on victims, as is the case of the directive on "Terrorism" (Directive (EU) 2017/541).
After sharing ideas, best practices and possible solutions, the European Commission said it is committed to defining a future strategy for improving the protection of vulnerable adults, with the Council of the EU looking forward to hearing the results of this.