Justice issues in Europe - Justice Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The Committee's inquiry

1.  We are beginning to see progress in the development of a more comprehensive system of cooperation in the administration of justice between member states, although the Hague programme undoubtedly underachieved its declared objectives. While we consider the Stockholm programme to be less ambitious, and more realistic than its predecessors, which we welcome, the complexity of arrangements under the Lisbon Treaty potentially gives rise to new challenges for the programme's implementation. (Paragraph 12)

2.  We welcome the Government's approach in favouring evidence-based practical measures and adopting a "look before you legislate" perspective and we are encouraged that this perspective has been reflected in the Stockholm programme. We hope that it will be possible for Government and the Commission to continue to pursue these ideals now that there is no longer a requirement for unanimity and that groups of member states are able to introduce their own initiatives. (Paragraph 29)

3.  Some of the practical consequences of the Lisbon Treaty and the opt-in arrangements that the UK has negotiated remain matters of contention.
(Paragraph 34)

4.  While the UK Government may wish to see greater emphasis on joint action and best practice rather than legislation, the proposals in the Stockholm programme and the Lisbon Treaty together give rise to the potential for a significant body of new law. (Paragraph 38)

The opt-in protocol and revisions to existing mutual recognition instruments

5.  We would welcome clarification from the Ministry of Justice on the action it is taking to deal with the predicted 250% rise in arrests pursuant to European arrest warrants in terms of the implications for the Crown Prosecution Service, Her Majesty's Courts Service and the National Offender Management Service and how it plans to meet the costs to the Department as a whole. (Paragraph 46)

6.  It is unfortunate that the successful use of the European arrest warrant, and the reduced time taken to process intra-EU extraditions, has been overshadowed by perceived injustices in individual cases. We welcome the conclusions of the evaluation of the warrant, adopted by the Council in June 2009, and the subsequent progress that has been made. However, we believe that the time it takes to review and reform such instruments undermines the mutual trust approach. Legislation should be used only as a last resort to resolving the issues over proportionality and we hope that the current approach bears fruit before the predicted growth in demand for European arrest warrants takes place. (Paragraph 50)

7.  We are encouraged that neither the Minister, nor any of our witnesses, were able to provide a convincing example of a situation in which an existing measure would be rendered inoperable as a result of the UK's decision not to participate. Nevertheless, we are concerned that the term "inoperable" is not defined in the protocol and that guidance is not available on its interpretation. (Paragraph 54)

8.  While the Government may wish the EU to adopt a "look before you legislate" approach, the ability of member states to present their own initiatives may pre-empt more considered approaches by the European Commission. We agree with the Government that, if the European evidence warrant is revised or replaced, lessons should be learned from the operation of the European arrest warrant by incorporating safeguards into the legislation to minimise the potential for disproportionate use. (Paragraph 60)

9.  We are encouraged by progress made in implementing the "road map" thus far, notwithstanding the delays caused by the introduction of the Lisbon Treaty. Some countries have given a strong signal that this is a priority by introducing the directive on interpretation and translation as a member state initiative. We consider it wise to begin with the easiest elements and to approach these with a renewed sense of optimism, but it is also important not to be complacent about the potential for setbacks. Very practical difficulties related to language may be more easily resolved with equally pragmatic solutions but other issues will undoubtedly be more complex to resolve. We fear that the current pace of progress may not be sustained and therefore have concerns about the implications of the continued imbalances in the system for UK citizens. As the number of European arrest warrants is predicted to rise, there is a real risk that many more citizens will experience the dire consequences of the lack of adequate safeguards afforded to them when they find themselves caught up in cross-European judicial processes. (Paragraph 72)

10.  Monitoring of compliance with existing procedural rights will be all the more necessary if the "road map" measures take a long time to agree. (Paragraph 75)

11.  The Commission should develop best practice guidance to accompany each of the proposals created under the "road map". In the first instance such guidance should be produced to complement the forthcoming directive on interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings, drawing on existing good practice in other member states, for example, the guidance note and checklist devised by the Magistrates' Association. (Paragraph 83)

12.  We welcome the proposed consolidation of instruments to promote the rights of victims of crime. The existence of compensation schemes could be promoted relatively easily through the forthcoming e-justice portal—which will function as a point of access to information on justice matters across the EU—with appropriate signposting from domestic agencies that come into contact with victims from other member states. We seek clarification from the Government as to when it intends fully to transpose the outstanding articles of the framework decision on the rights of victims in criminal proceedings. (Paragraph 90)

Safeguarding fundamental rights

13.  We urge the Ministry of Justice and the Information Commissioner to work towards a resolution of the current divergence in views on existing EU data protection legislation for the field of justice. We welcome the European Commission's consultation on the 1995 Data protection directive. If the directive is revised, the opportunity should be taken bring all EU law enforcement agencies under the aegis of the European Data Protection Supervisor for data protection purposes. (Paragraph 102)

14.  The Government should make every effort to publicise the e-justice portal. This is particularly important for victims, who should be able to gain access via the police and Victim Support, and for suspects, who should be notified by the police. (Paragraph 107)

15.  While we support the need for clear statements of purpose on data protection, what happens in practice is more important. Technology undoubtedly offers tremendous opportunities for both transferring data quickly and building in safeguards for privacy. Nevertheless data protection standards can be compromised by technology as well as by regulation. Although the Government advocates "privacy by design", we were surprised to learn that utility is given far greater weight than the incorporation of fundamental security measures in the development of some EU information management systems. We urge the Government to be more conscious of this in its discussions regarding developments in e-justice. (Paragraph 112)

16.  We are concerned that people caught up in EU criminal justice processes often do not know when information about them is being used or stored, or how it will be shared. We support the Commission's calls for a public awareness campaign to ensure that EU citizens are more fully aware of what happens to the data they provide and where it goes to. The Government must also have a role in this; for example, by being clear to the public about the kind of data protection safeguards it is seeking from the EU with respect to the privacy of UK citizens. The performance of the EU in this regard should be subject to the closest scrutiny by national parliaments in conjunction with the European Parliament and national and European data protection authorities. (Paragraph 117)

Cost and benefits for UK citizens

17.  The Government does not seem clear about how it will control costs if the UK opts in to "road map" measures that create obligations on the Government to provide costly services implementing new rights and protections. As more information is made available to EU citizens, so they will be more aware of their rights when they are suspected of committing an offence. (Paragraph 119)

18.  We agree with the Government's proposal that comprehensive analysis of current EU funding streams should be undertaken, to ensure that they are used effectively to support the e-justice strategy. (Paragraph 123)

19.  We accept that costing the entire Stockholm programme is very difficult, but we are surprised that the Government has been unable to give us at least an indication of the cost implications of key measures contained within it. (Paragraph 125)

20.  We believe that, while the cost of these e-justice technologies may inhibit speedy progress, the Commission should seek to consolidate funding for e-justice projects in order to ensure that the best can be made of innovative technology in the interests of all member states and their citizens. (Paragraph 126)

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