Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence


20.  Memorandum submitted by the Serious Organised Crime Agency

BACKGROUND

  On 25 July 2006, the Home Affairs Committee announced that it would conduct an inquiry into current issues relating to justice and home affairs (JHA) at European Union level. The Committee has received a range of written evidence on this subject, and an informal briefing from government officials. It was decided on 31 October that its inquiry should focus on the specific areas. On 1 November 2006 they published details of the specific areas they are interested in. SOCA has been copied into the call for evidence by ACPO.

QUESTIONS

1.   The current state of progress in developing practical co-operation between member states in the JHA field and future options in this area.

1.1  What benefits have accrued so far from practical co-operation between law enforcement and judicial authorities? What are the lessons of practical co-operation for European policy and legislation, and how effective is Eurojust in spreading best practice?

  Practical benefits include Article 40, Schengen Convention which authorises cross border surveillance. This process works very well and is regularly used by UK investigative teams. Joint Investigation Teams (JITs) are also beneficial but less successful due to the complexity of drawing up the JIT documentation and associated issues such as finances. There remain outstanding problems with the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) due to several inconsistencies between UK domestic legislation and the Framework decision. The main benefit continues to be the co-operation through bilateral channels within national laws of the member states (SOCA Liaison Officer (SLO) network within Europe). This co-operation is quicker and can take place without any formal legislative framework. The appointment of UK liaison magistrates in Paris, Madrid and Rome have proved effective in enhancing UK reach into Justice Ministries.

  Eurojust works better with some countries than others who are reluctant to use the Eurojust channel. However where there is multi-country involvement Eurojust is an effective channel. Eurojust has been effective in organising and facilitating workshops and seminars between practitioners within EU on different issues although there is still some reluctance within EU to use it on occasions. UK is more proactive in working through Eurojust.

1.2  In which areas does the UK government want to advance more practical co-operation measures? What benefits does the government see from practical co-operation over legislative solutions?

  We already have a number of different ways of achieving co-operation. To advance more practical measures we should be identifying what we cannot do at present and then work out how to do it.

1.3  What should be the role of Europol, Interpol and Eurojust in facilitating practical co-operation?

  Europol should continue to provide analytical and operational support to Member States investigations. We recognise that both the Liaison Bureau at Europol and their analytical teams have contributed greatly to several high profile UK investigations. Europol should concentrate on improving their performance in these areas rather than continually seeking new areas in which to develop.

  The role of Interpol should be to enhance collaboration and communication on practical issues with Europol and Member States such as the Stolen and Lost Travel Documents Database and exchange of information. Increased co-operation could be achieved through Interpol participation in the EU structures including Police Cooperation Working Group, Multidisciplinary Group on Organized Crime and European Police Chief meetings.

  Eurojust are perhaps the lesser partner in this equation but this is explained by their relatively recent arrival on the scene. Initial views are positive and Eurojust tend to add value rather than add another layer of administration. UK use of Eurojust will increase as their influence and experience grows as an organisation.

  We were surprised that there was no reference to the EU "principle of availability" as enhancing practical co-operation. This could prove to be one of the most effective mechanisms for the UK to exploit provided its value is not diminished by bureaucracy.

2.   The current state of progress in mutual recognition, including the development of minimum standards, across the EU, and whether further steps in this direction are desirable.

2.1  In which areas is mutual recognition currently employed (for example recognition of judicial judgements in other member states)? How has the principle, including minimum standards and protocols, worked in these areas? Is it an effective approach, including in terms of cost?  What are the limitations of mutual recognition as a cornerstone of co-operation, for example in cases such as the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) where there are controversies over dual criminality? What have been the successes, and how might these be built on?

  The EAW is the first significant EU legislation based on the principal of mutual recognition agreed by Member States. It is effective and has delivered practical benefits on extradition process but implementation has been different in some countries—UK for example because of its own domestic legislation.

3.   The current state of progress in and appetite for harmonising criminal justice systems across the EU and whether further steps in this direction are desirable.

3.1  How do proposals for harmonisation of criminal law across member states substantially differ from mutual recognition?

3.2  What are the implications for the UK in harmonising criminal law and systems?

  Harmonisation is problematic: the criminal systems across member States are very different (particularly resulting from the common law system in the UK and civil law systems on the mainland), and harmonisation presumes a commonality that isn't there. Mutual recognition is a very different matter—we can achieve the results we want without having to change our criminal law system substantially.

3.3  Would particular areas benefit from harmonisation on issues such as migration, serious crime cases and terrorism, rather than practical co-operation or mutual recognition?

  In the context of serious crime cases, there is nothing to suggest that there would be benefits from harmonisation that cannot be obtained via practical co-operation/mutual recognition.

4.   The process of decision-making on JHA issues at EU level: in particular, the extent to which current difficulties in reaching agreement derive from "third pillar" voting procedure and might be remedied by implementation of the passerelle clauses in previous treaties.

4.1  What implications might use of the passerelle have for the UK's legal and judicial systems? What alternative action might improve decision-making? How can transparency and accountability at European level best be extended?

  While decision making can be slow and on occasions lead to application of the lowest common denominator approach this is preferable to a mechanism by which we could be faced with legislative initiatives which we are obliged to implement but which have their basis founded in a legal system which is incompatible with our own. We support transparency and accountability but think that it is best ensured by keeping the Third Pillar intact.

5.   How significant is the recent trend towards internal agreements between groups of member states outside the framework of the EU, for instance the Schengen countries, or the Prum convention? To what extent is this due to unanimity or difficulties in decision making? What are the implications for the UK and for EU fragmentation?

  Whilst the Prum and previously Schengen Conventions were drawn up between certain EU countries they are not exclusionary and therefore should not impact on EU fragmentation issues. There is benefit of a small number of countries participating in conventions as this will show the value of the initiative and encourage others to participate. This is tempered with the view that it is also becoming harder to achieve full agreement with the 25 countries because of national differences. There should be more development towards EU cooperation with outside states—perhaps through specific agreements where convenient.

6.   What are the current developments in the area of common border controls and visa arrangements? What implications does the proposed new policy on illegal migration have for the UK and our role in the EU? Will the proposed changes to the short-stay visa arrangements in relation to the eastern neighbours of the EU open up new channels for illegal migration further westward in the EU? What are the implications of enlargement for JHA issues, including the impact of labour migration and confidence in new member states' justice systems?

  More for the IND to answer but the implementation of UK E Borders will provide a more stringent internal control of our borders—especially use of the 24/7 link to Interpol.

Alison Devis

27 November 2006





 
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