Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 186-199)

Mr Philip Geering, Ms Carmen Dowd, Superintendent Mike Flynn and Mr Rob Wainwright

1 NOVEMBER 2006

  Q186  Chairman:Good morning and welcome. Thank you very much for coming to give evidence to us. I want to explain at the start that this is on the record and being broadcast, and this inquiry is looking into the Second Schengen Information System. Perhaps I could ask you—and I do not mind in which order, but perhaps it would be polite to start with the lady—to introduce yourselves and tell us something briefly about what you do, what your organisation does and, as it were, where you come from?

  Ms Dowd: I will ask Philip Geering to open on behalf of the CPS, if I may, and then if I may go on to explain my particular role within the CPS, if that is helpful? I think that would be more helpful to the Committee.

  Q187  Chairman: Of course.

  Mr Geering: My Lord Chairman, I am Philip Geering; I am Director of Policy for the Crown Prosecution Service Headquarters and I report directly to the DPP. Thank you for this invitation to us to give evidence; we welcome the opportunity on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service to give evidence, as this is an important matter. We are particularly pleased to be appearing alongside our police colleagues, as this is a significant development for the CPS. I think the first point to make is that the Crown Prosecution Service, as the principal prosecuting authority within England and Wales, is not responsible for the setting-up and running of the SIS II system. However, we are significant beneficiaries of it and we work closely with our police and investigative colleagues to make it as effective as possible. In addition, the CPS will be providing some of the safeguards that will ensure the SIS system is used proportionately and appropriately. For example, some of the alerts will not be going on the system unless a Crown prosecutor has assessed the merits of that alert and approved the putting on of that alert. So this is a significant illustration of police and prosecutors working closely together to make for a more efficient and effective service to the public, and to victims and witnesses in particular, and at the end of the day enabling us to be more effective in bringing offenders to justice.

  Q188  Lord Marlesford: Are you both barristers or solicitors?

  Mr Geering: I am a barrister.

  Ms Dowd: I am a barrister. I am sorry to interrupt, but if I may briefly explain that I am Head of the Special Crime Division and I have the operational responsibility for all matters pertaining to extradition cases, so when applications are made by foreign Member States for the return of fugitives to their State my team will deal with those applications.

  Mr Wainwright: Good morning, my name is Rob Wainwright and I represent the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which you may know is a new agency established this year to fight serious and organised crime in this country. It opened its operations on 1 April this year following the passing of legislation through Parliament last year. My role in the organisation is to run the international affairs of the organisation, an international department that manages a significant set of international police cooperation measures on behalf of our own agency but also on behalf of all other UK law enforcements agencies. So we facilitate requests and assistance for international police cooperation on behalf of our partner agencies, and included in that framework, of course, are our plans for the Schengen Information System, and in particular the responsibility that we will inherit to manage the SIRENE Bureau of the Schengen Information System. So we are busy planning to build that bureau right now as an integrated part of our international work. We are, therefore, very keen advocates of the Schengen Information System; it will add important new capabilities to those that we already have and already offer to our partner agencies in the United Kingdom. Of course, some of the Schengen police cooperation measures that we have already adopted, such as the European Arrest Warrant and the cross-border surveillance measures under Schengen, are already with us now and are already playing an important role in our work. Of course, the establishment of the Schengen Information System will increase that capability yet further.

  Q189  Lord Marlesford: What is your background professionally?

  Mr Wainwright: My background is as a civil servant; I have worked in a number of different departments in government.

  Q190  Lord Marlesford: With the Home Office?

  Mr Wainwright: With the Home Office and with the Ministry of Defence as well.

  Q191  Lord Marlesford: Immediately before SOCA was set up?

  Mr Wainwright: I was a member of one of the four precursor agencies of SOCA, in this case the National Criminal Intelligence Service.

  Superintendent Flynn: My Lord Chairman, I am Superintendent Mike Flynn; I am from the Sussex Police. I run, on behalf of the end users of the Schengen Information System, the Joint Operational Authority, and that is the co-ordinating body with the Home Office programme for the end users across the UK law enforcement groups. My role encompasses everything from what it will look like on a police national computer screen, through to the operational guidance, the training and the rollout and co-ordination of the rollout for all the agencies in the UK.

  Q192  Chairman: Can I ask for Lord Marlesford, what is your background?

  Superintendent Flynn: My background is entirely in operational policing.

  Q193  Chairman: Thank you all. You have had notice of some questions that we want to ask you, one of which you have already answered very helpfully, and I will leave it to you to decide which of you would like to answer the question, but it is open to any of you to come in after the first person has supplied an answer. Can you tell me, how much access will the Crown Prosecution Service or SOCA or other UK agencies or bodies have to SIS data? By SIS data I mean not only existing SIS data but also likely future SIS II data. Which bodies will have the capability or the responsibility of issuing different forms of alert and which bodies, or which of you, will have the responsibility to take action based on an alert? Who would like to have a shot at that first?

  Superintendent Flynn: My Lord Chairman, access to the Schengen Information System is anticipated to be via the existing Police National Computer, and the access can be limited at organisational level. That is not all functionality of the PNC nor of the SIS will be available to every end user, and it can also be limited at individual user level within an organisation. Clearly not all PNC using agencies will be permitted to have access to the Schengen Information System, and access is very much limited by the Schengen Acquis Article 101. So it is very much to do with the function of the force or agency, and also the law enforcement business described therein; so it is about police checks, Customs' checks and border checks.

  Q194  Chairman: When you say it will be limited, more limited for us than for Schengen members?

  Superintendent Flynn: No, we take the same interpretation, except of course for Article 96 data, to which we do not have access. So the access depends very much on the force or agency and their access to the system. For example, some agencies do not have access to the vehicle database of the Police National Computer. There are three main areas to the Police National Computer: names, vehicles and property; and what happens, depending on the function of each agency, they have access to various areas of information. Also some agencies are able to update the system, for example police forces can do that, where they can update records on the system. Other agencies are entitled to search for data and act upon what they find but are not entitled to update the information. Essentially, if we did have an agency that wished to launch an alert on the SIS and they did not have an update facility then they would have to do it through partnership with SOCA and of course that would mean there would be an extra level of scrutiny regarding the importance and the relevance of the alert that they wished to raise. When it comes to responding to hits then any agency that actually gets a hit on an alert is expected to take the action requested. In those cases where the alert is not a prime function of the agency that gets the hit, for example if we were looking at missing persons and a Customs Officer, a Customs Officer's powers in relation to a missing person are actually quite limited. So what we have put in place are arrangements between ACPO and ACPO (Scotland) and the other agencies to ensure that prompt action is taken in those cases. There is also a question regarding the CPS; the CPS, as a primary prosecuting agency, would be entitled to have access to the data but at present they are not a PNC user, except for, I believe, one pilot that you are thinking of putting in place for CPS London, and that is to do with previous convictions information from the PNC and not from the SIS itself.

  Q195  Chairman: Thank you very much. Would any of you like to add anything?

  Mr Wainwright: Simply to add that SOCA as a national law enforcement agency will have full access in the same way as any other police forces in Europe, but will operate that access directly of course.

  Mr Geering: I think only to add that we are entitled to have access but we do not really regard it as an operational necessity or appropriate. As far as we will benefit from the system we will be able to work through the investigators and they are best placed to operate the system. We do, as I have indicated, anticipate having an authorisation level to enable alerts to be placed, and that will reflect police prosecutors working closely together. So, for example, if an extradition alert is to be placed on the system ordinarily a prosecutor will have to approve that alert before it is placed, and in approving it the prosecutor will need to ensure that it is an extradition offence, that the code for Crown prosecutor tests are met—that is to say there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to prosecute—and we will have to exercise some proportionality to make sure that it is an appropriate case to go on a European-wide network. So we will be providing that kind of safeguard. It applies in similar ways in relation to lost or stolen property, where the police might be seeking to put on an alert which will trigger a forensic examination of the property if it is recovered. That plainly has potential resource implications for other jurisdictions; this jurisdiction would not want to overload either the system or other countries with an inappropriate request and the prosecutors will be able to sign off saying, "Yes, that is an appropriate alert to place; we need the forensics on that property", or not, and the alert will follow, or not, as appropriate.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. Lord Corbett first and then Lord Avebury.

  Q196  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: Superintendent Flynn, you reminded us that we do not have access to the Article 96 information on SIS, that is aliens who are refused entry. We have some figures here, 751,954 names on that. If we make a bilateral approach to the National Police Authority is it possible to get the information by that route on that basis?

  Superintendent Flynn: I think if we were looking at a specific case we would work in partnership with the Serious Organised Crime Agency to make that request of another country, in a specific case; I do not think at this time we would expect them to send their entire updated list.

  Q197  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: This would be done presumably through Europol, possibly?

  Mr Wainwright: That is certainly one significant mechanism that we operate. I said earlier that we have a range of instruments available, Interpol also; there is also a network of bilateral liaison officers that my agency has around the world. Of course every day we are cooperating with our partner agencies in Europe and beyond on the most significant operational cases, and some of that cooperation will involve access to the same information that, coincidentally, is also held on Article 96. So by our not having access to Article 96 by no means closes down all our avenues of possible cooperation in this area.

  Chairman: Lord Avebury and then Lord Marlesford.

  Q198  Lord Avebury: Mr Geering said that the CPS will ensure that alerts are only placed on the system when they satisfy the normal tests that a prosecution is viable. How do we know when you receive an alert that an equivalent test has been applied by another State?

  Mr Wainwright: That is a key function of the SIRENE bureau, which we are developing in our agency. As I said, it is a very, very important function that we validate all incoming alerts from all other Member States against a standard set of criteria and common standards that apply right across Member States. It is a key function of our bureau to validate those in that way, as indeed it is for any outward alerts that the UK would be placing on the system.

  Q199  Lord Marlesford: Can I just be clear in my own mind about the actually linkage, as it were, between the Police National Computer and the Schengen Information System. When you say that your agencies get their Schengen information through the Police National Computer, does that mean that there is a lot of SIS information on the Police National Computer, or is it that the Police National Computer has a facility for interrogating the Schengen computers?

  Superintendent Flynn: Very much the latter. Essentially, although we have not decided the architecture of the UK's SIS II solution, it is most likely to be a national copy of the data that is held on the central European system, and that in the future, instead of a domestic inquiry from a police officer only interrogating one set of data, it will actually look in both databases for the information and will bring it back consolidated. You cannot take the European data and embed it into your national system—you are simply not allowed to.


 
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