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State must “assure all its citizens of equal access to justice”

Minister of Justice, Francisca Van Dunem

30 Mar · 19h30

© Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union / Pedro Sá da Bandeira

The Portuguese Minister of Justice pointed out that a state under the rule of law must "assure all its citizens of full and equal access to law and justice, irrespective of their circumstances”. However, Francisca Van Dunem also said that this issue “cannot be adequately dealt with at strictly national level”.


At the opening session of the High-Level Conference on “Protecting Vulnerable Adults across Europe – the Way Forward”, under the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Minister of Justice proposed "addressing the need to equip the Union with a common legal framework that will provide full access to justice and effective protection of vulnerable adults, while also ensuring the full exercise of their rights”.


Francisca Van Dunem went on to say that the conference will make it possible to reflect further and identify goals, as well as helping to map out the way forward, bearing in mind the main instruments of international and European law in force and the work already undertaken at several levels.

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Francisca Van Dunem, Minister for Justice © Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union / Pedro Sá da Bandeira

In the area of civil law, the Minister referred to the 2000 Hague Convention on International Protection of Adults, stressing the fact that all the member states becoming parties to this convention and fully implementing it could constitute a significant advance in improving the protection of vulnerable adults.


In the area of criminal law, Van Dunem pointed to the need to look at the exercise of the rights of vulnerable adults in the procedural framework, as suspects, defendants or witnesses, in order to assure their effective participation, as well as their protection when they are victims of crimes.

“ For the most vulnerable victims, such as victims with disabilities or the elderly, or victims of gender violence, it is still particularly difficult to face criminal proceedings and deal with the consequences of the crime. ”

Francisca Van Dunem, Minister of Justice

“Europe is not doing enough”

During the opening session of the conference, the European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, did not hide the fact that “Europe is not doing enough to protect its vulnerable adults”. 


Stressing that the Member States are well aware of the limitations in question, the Commissioner again said, “we must do more, because it's not as if the problem has not been acknowledged”. Didier Reynders recalled that “ten years ago, the European Commission had been insisting on the ratification of the Hague Convention by all the Member States” and so far only ten countries have signed it.