Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


ASSET RECOVERY: CO-OPERATION BETWEEN OFFICES OF MEMBER STATES (6589/2/06, 6589/3/06)

Letter from the Chairman to Paul Goggins MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Home Office

  This proposal was considered by Sub-Committee E (Law and Institutions) at its meeting of 3 May 2006.

  We note that you will be submitting a new draft of the proposal for scrutiny shortly, and will respond in more detail once we have received this. In the meantime, we have decided to hold the proposal under scrutiny.

4 May 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Vernon Coaker MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Home Office

  This proposal was considered by Sub-Committee E (Law and Institutions) at its meeting of 24 May 2006.

  The proposal raises three principal concerns and we deal with these below.

NORTHERN IRELAND

  We note that the Assets Recovery Agency and the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency are likely to be the designated Asset Recovery Offices for the purpose of this proposal. Your EM explains that Northern Ireland is covered by the Assets Recovery Agency. Does this arrangement take adequate account of the special features of the Northern Irish criminal system and law enforcement structures?

DATA PROTECTION

  Article 30(1)(b) TEU allows for the exchange of information between law enforcement authorities "subject to appropriate provisions on the protection of personal data". Article 6(1) of the proposal requires Member States to ensure that "the established rules on data protection are applied" to exchanges of information under the proposed Framework Decision. Article 6(2) stipulates that the data protection rules of the receiving State will apply and that personal data exchanged will be protected in accordance with Council of Europe standards in this field.

  As you know, a proposed Framework Decision on data protection in the Third Pillar is currently under discussion in the Council, although progress appears to have stalled. We consider it important to ensure that an overarching framework for data protection is in place and we are concerned about the ad hoc approach to data protection in recent Third Pillar proposals. Do you consider the protections of the present proposal to be sufficiently stringent to ensure proper protection of personal data? Would it not be prudent to secure the agreement of the data protection proposal prior to the conclusion of further Framework Decisions dealing with information exchange?

LEGAL BASE

  We are wary of proposals which are made under the Third Pillar but seek to have effect in civil proceedings as well as criminal proceedings. However, the civil proceedings in this case are concerned with recovery of proceeds of crime, and one of the primary aims of such proceedings is the prevention of crime. We note that the Government believe that there is a valid argument to justify the proposal's application to cooperation between Asset Recovery Offices in civil proceedings in these circumstances.

  We understand that Ministers may seek to reach agreement on this proposal at the June JHA Council meeting. Accordingly, despite our reservations regarding the position of Northern Ireland and data protection issues, we have decided to clear the proposal from scrutiny. We take this opportunity to emphasise, however, the importance which we attach to data protection in measures which deal with exchange of information in the Third Pillar. We hope for a prompt response to the concerns we outline above in this respect.

25 May 2006

Letter from Vernon Coaker MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 25 May concerning the proposed Framework Decision mentioned above.

  I note that this proposal was considered by Sub-Committee E (Law and Institutions) at its meeting on 24 May 2006 and cleared from scrutiny.

  You asked whether the proposed arrangement for the Assets Recovery Agency to act as the designated Asset Recovery Office to cover Northern Ireland's requests took adequate account of the special features of the Northern Irish criminal system and law enforcement structures.

  The Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) and the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency (SDEA) currently sit as the contact points under the existing informal co-operation arrangements on asset recovery, known as the Camden Asset Recovery Inter-Agency Network (CARIN), ARA's remit covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The SDEA covers Scotland. The Framework decision would allow us to continue with these procedural arrangements.

  You also asked about the protection of personal data under this proposal. The Government's view is that the present proposals are indeed sufficiently robust to ensure proper protection of personal data. We agree on the importance of progressing the Data Protection Framework Decision as quickly as possible, but do not believe it is necessary to delay progress on other Third Pillar instruments on exchange of information. It necessarily takes time to work through such detailed dossiers as the Data Protection Framework Decision, not least due to the very different police and judicial structures in place across the EU, but I can assure you that there is a great deal of commitment on the part of the UK to move this issue forward.

  Finally I note your comments on the legal base of the proposed Framework Decision.

  I hope this information is of assistance.

8 June 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Vernon Coaker MP

  Thank you for your letter of 8 June 2006 which was considered by Sub-Committee E (Law and Institutions) at its meeting of 21 June 2006. We note in particular what you say about data protection. While we would prefer to see an overarching Framework Decision in place before agreement of measures such as these, we are reassured by your commitment to moving forward with the data protection Framework Decision.

  You will have seen the articles which appeared in The Times of 14 June 2006 on the subject of the Asset Recovery Agency. We are sure you will agree that the figures quoted in one of those articles, if correct, are rather concerning. The figures provided show that, despite an annual spend of £19.8 million in 2005-06, the Agency recovered just £4.34 million. Given that the Agency was expected to collect sufficient money to cover its budget by 2005-06, this seems to be a significant underachievement. Is it wise to link asset recovery offices across the EU before being satisfied that we have the best structure in place domestically to ensure maximum recovery of the proceeds of crime?

22 June 2006

Letter from Vernon Coaker MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 22 June about the proposed Framework Decision set out above.

  I have noted your comments on data protection.

  You question whether it is sensible to link asset recovery offices across the EU before being satisfied that we have the best structure in place domestically to ensure maximum recovery of the proceeds of crime. On this point, I announced last month that police, customs officers and other public agencies had recovered a record £96 million of criminal assets in 2005-06. This is double the amount being seized three years ago and is a significant effort towards maximising asset recovery.

  On the performance of the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA), in my Written Ministerial Statement of 14 June I explained that the Agency had exceeded its targets last year in terms of the value of assets restrained (£85.7 million against a target of £25 million), the numbers of new civil recovery/taxation cases adopted (108 against 100), and the number of adopted criminal confiscation cases (38 against 20). However, legal challenges, outside the control of the ARA, have slowed down the progress of civil recovery cases to final completion.

  On the international front, both ARA and the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency (SDEA) currently sit as the contact points under the existing informal co-operation arrangements on asset recovery, known as the Camden Asset Recovery Inter-Agency Network (CARIN). ARA plays an active role in this international network. The Framework Decision on asset recovery offices would allow us to continue with these procedural arrangements if that is what the UK decided.

  A firm decision on which bodies will act as the nominated Asset Recovery Offices will be taken in due course after further consultation with the bodies currently tasked with asset recovery work.

  This is a significant area of co-operation in the international arena. The Framework Decision should lead to faster tracing of criminal assets, an essential component in the successful freezing, seizure or confiscation of the proceeds of crime across the EU.

  I hope this information is of assistance.

6 July 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Vernon Coaker MP

  Thank you for your letter of 6 July 2006.

  We note what you say about the improving performance of the Assets Recovery Agency and trust that any future decision on nominated asset recovery offices under the Decision will be made after full consideration of their ability to participate effectively in the network.

25 July 2006



 
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