Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Seventh Report


21 Index of convictions of nationals from third countries

(27709)

11453/06

COM(06) 359

Commission working document on the feasibility of an index of third-country nationals convicted in the European Union

Legal base
Document originated4 July 2006
Deposited in Parliament20 July 2006
DepartmentHome Office
Basis of considerationEM of 17 August 2006
Previous Committee ReportNone, but see (26931) 6137/1/05: HC 38-xv (2004-05), para 19 (6 April 2005), (26385) 6584/05: HC 34-v (2005-06), para 44 (12 October 2005) and (27195) 5463/06: HC 34-xxxiii (2005-06), para 4 (28 June 2006)
To be discussed in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentLegally and politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested

Background

21.1 The 1959 Council of Europe Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters[61] provides for the exchange of criminal record information. Article 13 of the 1959 Convention provides for the making of specific requests for information, whilst Article 22 requires each Contracting Party to inform any other Party of all recorded criminal convictions in respect of nationals of that Party. The previous Committee considered a proposal for a Council Decision to improve the operation of exchanges of information under the Convention between EU Member States. The proposal was made pending the submission of further proposals for the adoption of a computerised system for the exchange of criminal record information and the previous Committee and cleared it from scrutiny on 6 April 2005.

21.2 We subsequently considered a Commission White Paper which reviewed the systems within Member States for recording convictions and which made a number of criticisms of the arrangements under the 1959 Convention. In the White Paper the Commission referred to "three main problem areas". These were, first, a difficulty in rapidly identifying the Member State in which an individual had been convicted. The White Paper pointed out that, although the 1959 Convention required signatories to notify each other when foreign nationals are convicted, it did not require the Contracting Party of nationality to include such convictions in their national registers. Secondly, the White Paper referred to "difficulties in obtaining information quickly and by a simple procedure" and asserted that the mechanism for requests for mutual assistance under Article 13 of the 1959 Convention did not work as it should and that national courts often took the view that the procedure for obtaining details of an individual's previous offences in another Member State was "cumbersome, unfamiliar and incompatible with the constraints of domestic proceedings". (We noted that the evidence on which this conclusion was reached was not set out in the White Paper.) Thirdly, the White Paper suggested that there was difficulty in understanding the information provided, because the information entered in the national register varied considerably from one country to another.

21.3 The White Paper discussed various options for improving the exchange of information on convictions, including facilitating bilateral exchanges between the Member States concerned, the networking of national criminal records offices, and the setting up of a "genuine European central criminal records office". The White Paper identified disadvantages with each of these options, and suggested instead a "hybrid" solution which, as a first stage, would involve creating a "European index of offenders" (i.e. an index of personal data identifying the individual and the Member State in which he was convicted, but without any details of the offence or of the sentence) which would serve to identify the Member State in which the person concerned had previously been convicted and from which details of the offence and sentence could be obtained.

21.4 The White Paper had noted that the mechanism under Article 22 of the 1959 Convention for centralising information in the state of the convicted person's nationality did not apply to a national of a country which was not party to the 1959 Convention. In relation to information on convictions of nationals of EU Member States, the Justice and Home Affairs Council of 14 April 2005 decided to continue to rely on the state of nationality as the source for criminal record information. The exchange of information on convictions of such EU nationals is the subject of a proposal for a Framework Decision on the organisation and content of criminal record information, which is under consideration in the Council. We considered the proposal on 28 June 2006 and held it under scrutiny.

The Commission's working document

21.5 The Commission's working document discusses the feasibility of an index of third- country nationals convicted within the European Union. The Commission notes that it is currently not possible to rely on the State of nationality to obtain comprehensive information about convictions of third-country nationals elsewhere in the EU. The proposed index would permit a Member State requiring criminal record information to receive an immediate notification of which other Member States hold information on the person in question.

21.6 In the Commission's view, such a system would operate in a series of steps. At the first stage the Member State of conviction would provide the index with information sufficient to identify the convicted third-country national, but without requiring the content of the criminal record to be communicated. This identifying information would be used by the requesting Member State to consult the index in order to be informed which Member State has the relevant criminal history, with subsequent requests for criminal record information being dealt with bilaterally by the Member States concerned.

21.7 The Commission states that its feasibility study shows that there is little difference, in terms of complexity, between an index limited to third-country nationals and a full index, but that a limited index would require less storage and processing capacity. The cost would also be around 40% less.

21.8 The Commission notes that most national criminal record systems contain only text-based (or alphanumeric) information, although it also notes that those in the UK and Cyprus also contain fingerprints. The Commission suggests that establishing the identity of a third-country national raises more problems than it does for EU nationals, and concludes that alphanumeric information on the identity of third-country nationals "will therefore be unreliable in a certain number of cases". The Commission goes on to discuss the possibility of an index containing biometric information, either generally or limited to certain categories of serious crime, and concludes by submitting a questionnaire to the Member States to allow the various options to be examined further.

The Government's view

21.9 In her Explanatory Memorandum of 17 August 2006 the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office (Joan Ryan) states that the general UK position on the exchange of criminal record information is "positive". The Minister notes that the Commission's working paper indicates that further debate will be necessary and that further information has been requested from Member States to allow this debate to take place. The Minister states that the UK will await the receipt of this information before committing itself to a view on how the index should work.

21.10 The Minister also notes that financial implications may arise from the practical impact of the proposal, in particular from setting up an interface between IT systems in the UK and the index, but that these will be considered further when the options for an index are discussed.

Conclusion

21.11 We accept that the Minister may not be able to give much detail as to the United Kingdom's views at this stage, but we shall look forward to a fuller account when the factual survey has been completed by Member States and its results circulated.

21.12 We shall hold the document under scrutiny pending further information in due course from the Minister.




61   European Treaty Series No. 30. Back


 
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