Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-219)

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


  Q200  Lord Marlesford: You say "will"—it is all "will"—so at the moment how do you get Schengen Information System under the present SIS?

  Superintendent Flynn: We have no technical link to the current SIS.

  Q201  Lord Marlesford: At all?

  Superintendent Flynn: At all, and therefore a UK law enforcement officer cannot carry out an SIS check at this time.

  Q202  Lord Marlesford: What is the date when you are going to be able to?

  Superintendent Flynn: First of all, we have to have a central system in place and the latest guidance on that is that the central system is expected to be in place in 2008 and then the existing 15 Member States will have to migrate from SIS I to SIS II and then after that new Member States, of which the United Kingdom will be one, will have a staggered integration into the system, and we would reasonably expect this to be about 2010.

  Chairman: Lord Dubs.

  Q203  Lord Dubs: I wonder if I might go back to the Article 96 situation? You mentioned that you had other ways sometimes of accessing information, but in operational terms how much of a handicap is it not to have full access to Article 96 information?

  Mr Wainwright: I think potentially it is a handicap, quite a significant one, and the government has always made a case to the Commission and other Member States that the United Kingdom, notwithstanding the fact that we are retaining our border controls, of course, should have access to the relevant part of the Article 96 database that concerns the movement of suspects of interest to us in terms of organised crime or counter-terrorism. So if it were possible, technically and administratively, to delineate with that database the difference between that information that is on there purely for immigration control purposes and also that on there for the control of suspects entering the EU, then we certainly would want access to the latter, and we have been arguing the case for a technical solution to be brought to bear as part of SIS II that can allow us to participate in that way. It is very much in our interests but other Member States agree that it is in their interests as well because the UK is a very significant part of the European Union's response, of course, to fighting terrorism.

  Q204  Lord Dubs: May I ask you this, what preparations have you made—that is the CPS, SOCA and the SIRENE office—to date for the application of SIS and SIS II and what further preparations do you still need to make? I know you have referred to this partly.

  Mr Wainwright: Maybe I can expand my earlier answer, thank you. The precursor agency of SOCA responsible for this work was the National Criminal Intelligence Service, of which I was a member, as I said earlier, so I have had personal experience of being involved in this work now for a number of years. NCIS, that agency, participated with the Home Office in particular and other agencies in the development of our SIS I preparations, and we expected SIS I to go live in this country probably by 2005 at the latest. As you know, for other reasons, technical and otherwise, that was not possible in the end, but at the time we had prepared quite strongly and in detailed form in NCIS for our SIRENE bureau functions. So that involved technical preparation, working with Home Office colleagues, working with the technical integration with the Police National Computer, but also recruiting a body of staff to staff the new SIRENE bureau. So we recruited the staff and we trained them. As it happens, we do not have SIS I application but we still have the staff and that is good for us because we still have now the other police cooperation measures of the Schengen Agreement that we are operating, such as the European Arrest Warrant. So we can use that staff and the body of expertise and experience that we have had now of course to good effect as we prepare for SIS II and the SIRENE bureau under SIS II, which will be different in some ways but in many ways we are dealing with the same issues. So building on that body of experience, using the staff, the training path that we already have, we are preparing for our signing up to SIS II and I have every reason to believe that we will have a fully functioning highly capable SIRENE bureau as part of that.

  Q205  Chairman: This Committee has heard a lot of evidence about the delays in implementing SIS II. Have you, from your point of view, been very conscious of these delays and are they causing you problems?

  Mr Wainwright: Only in the sense that the longer we take as a country to sign up to SIS II the longer we have to wait to add a powerful new capability to our law enforcement powers in this country, of course. So to that end, to the extent to which I represent the wider interests of UK law enforcement, then, of course, it gives me cause for concern, as it does in other parts of government.

  Q206  Lord Dubs: You have partly dealt with my next question, but in case there is anything you want to add. What will be the effect of SIS II on the operational efficiency of UK law enforcement agencies and criminal justice bodies? And from an operational perspective, what added value will SIS II offer compared to the current SIS I?

  Mr Wainwright: Whilst Mike is finding his note perhaps I can summarise it from our perspective? The use of biometric data in particular, which in many respects represents a very strong future capability in law enforcement, so SIS II is planning on the basis that we can use biometric data. The technical capability for that is not yet ready but when it is then of course it gives us a powerful new tool against searching, against records. SIS II also brings the capability to add new alerts, not just those limited to people and a certain small number of objects as they are currently but also new objects such as boats and parts of boats and also parts of aircraft. Also, importantly, new analytical capabilities to link different alerts and to provide the operator, therefore, with pointers as to where the investigation should lead in terms of linking different persons and objects. Have I missed anything?

  Superintendent Flynn: That is very comprehensive!

  Mr Geering: If I may add from a prosecutor's perspective to this question, I would endorse what Mr Wainwright has said about this being a powerful new tool. It has considerable potential from the perspective of the prosecutor. As we reform the CPS from a reactive paper-based organisation into one that fully understands its public service role and its function in bringing offenders to justice, we turn our prosecutors into proactive operators. If I can illustrate that. At the moment, if a suspect goes missing then we file our papers and wait for them to turn up; if we believe that they may have gone to Europe, if we have intelligence understanding of that from the police, then we may prepare a European Arrest Warrant and that will be sent to the country where we think they are, and then we will hope that they are found and brought back. SIS II has the potential to turn that, an essentially reactive mode, into a proactive mode. If we have reason to believe that the person has gone to Europe or is within Europe and we want them found then we can, working with our police and investigative colleagues, get an alert on to the system. This is a much more proactive opportunity for us in bringing offenders to justice and it has great potential and is really quite exciting in terms of law enforcement. Reverting to the point about preparation, we have worked very closely with SIRENE and with ACPO to prepare. We prepared for SIS I, a Memoranda of Understanding was signed between the CPS and ACPO; draft operational guidance was prepared—and that of course was shelved when SIS I and was not pursued. We will pick that up, we are picking that up again with our colleagues and partners. We will refresh it—I do not anticipate any significant change—and particularly in relation to the operational guidance that indicates that prosecutors will be authorising certain alerts. So we will train and prepare our prosecutors so that we can deliver on the effectiveness of SIS II. Of course, that inevitably prompts a resources implication. We would anticipate an increase in caseload because of SIS II. We anticipate that first of all because we have seen an increase in caseload in relation to the European Arrest Warrant and that has been a positive step forward—and I will revert in a moment to my colleague, Ms Dowd, to perhaps develop on this—but also in looking at other jurisdictions where the SIS system has already been introduced. Clear evidence of escalating caseload, good in terms of public service and bringing offenders to justice, getting resolution for victims and enabling witnesses to give evidence as quickly as possible. But of course it carries the resource implication.

  Q207  Chairman: Do you want to pick up that invitation?

  Ms Dowd: My Lord Chairman, just to clarify that in assessing the resource implications in 2003 it was evident that on any estimation that the likely impact on caseload was that it would increase significantly. It has actually been borne out that the European Arrest Warrants have increased our workload across the board, save actually in relation to the import extraditions, i.e. where we are still in reactive mode in terms of knowing where people are and making applications.

  Q208  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: Do you know by how much? Is that an extra 10 per cent or 20 per cent?

  Ms Dowd: The estimate for the end of 2006 is that we think our caseload would have doubled from 2005, and that is across the board in relation to all extraditions, not just European Arrest Warrants. So a lot of preparation needs to be made in relation to further resourcing issues once SIS II is implemented, and we have to take that forward with the Home Office and have some negotiations around that.

  Q209  Chairman: How much is that increase in workload due to enlargement and the recent new Members of the European Community?

  Ms Dowd: Certainly a significant number are due to that, but there are other issues at play in relation to the rest of the world, so I cannot say that it can be totally accounted for in relation to that.

  Q210  Chairman: Do you have any perspective on how ready Bulgaria and Romania are, coming into the scheme? This is rather beyond your remit.

  Mr Wainwright: In terms of the European Arrest Warrant I believe that actually they are quite ready and they may be ready as soon as 1 January when they accede; I think there is still some technical work to do, but I think they are quite ready. If I can add to the point that my colleague made? The use of the European Arrest Warrant certainly increased the workloads in my organisation and in others as well, but it really has delivered significant new benefits, I have to say. It is a hugely important new tool for police officers and the ability to track down very quickly fugitives from justice and to return them to British jurisdiction much, much more quickly and in a much simpler way than ever before really does add a powerful new capability. I am aware of several high profile cases already where we have helped ourselves in Europe, where we have helped our European partners by apprehending important serious crime figures in the United Kingdom. This is a very good news story for policing; I have to say, notwithstanding the fact that it increases the burden of some of our work.

  Chairman: Thank you. This Committee likes good stories!

  Q211  Lord Marlesford: Just to follow that up, can you give us a feel for size as to how many European Arrest Warrants has the UK issued in whatever the most convenient last year period?

  Mr Wainwright: I do not know, I am afraid, my Lord. My colleague might be able to help you.

  Chairman: Incidentally, I should say that if, at any point, particularly when you receive the transcript of this meeting, if there are any points that you think it would be helpful for us to have supplemented in writing, please feel absolutely free to send us in additional evidence.

  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: Would it be unfair to ask you to add a note on information on how many requests for warrants from other European States you have responded to, because it is a two-way street?

  Q212  Chairman: Can we put those questions on the record?

  Ms Dowd: My Lord Chairman, can I briefly come back to your questions about Bulgaria and Romania? Our experience in the CPS is that the new EAW countries are generally well prepared and respond quickly to requests for further information, so our experience is a very positive one thus far.

  Q213  Chairman: That is very interesting, thank you.

  Mr Wainwright: I have some of the details now, thank you. Between January 2004 and August of this year, since the European Arrest Warrant has been functioning, we have issued a total of 307 European Arrest Warrants in the United Kingdom on behalf of our partners in the EU, which has led to the arrest of a total number of suspects of 172. So that gives you a feel for how much work we are doing, and there is a corresponding number that we are seeking cooperation for in other parts of Europe.

  Q214  Lord Marlesford: Is that the one that Lord Corbett asked about, in other words requests made of us to arrest people?

  Mr Wainwright: Yes.

  Q215Lord Marlesford: And you do not have, at the moment, the figures for the number of requests we have made into Europe for arrests?

  Mr Wainwright: I am sorry, I think I misled you. I think that is the result, that is the number that we have sought assistance from our European colleagues.

  Q216  Lord Marlesford: So the figures again were?

  Superintendent Flynn: 307 warrants issued, which is outgoing requests, and 172 people arrested because of that.

  Mr Wainwright: I should validate those figures and I can provide you with more accurate figures and indeed more up to date figures after the Committee.

  Chairman: Thank you. Lord Avebury.

  Q217  Lord Avebury: We have been concentrating on the increase in the workload arising from the European Arrest Warrant, but the real step increase will surely take place when SIRENE goes live and that will not be until 2010. Have you already had any discussions about budgetary implications and can you give us an idea of the order of magnitude of the resources that will be needed by SOCA and the CPS?

  Mr Wainwright: We are still working on the volumetrics on that, as you can imagine, but based on the experience of our partners in the European Union we expect this to have a significant impact on our workload, maybe as much as twice or even three times as much in terms of the handling of the data that we currently manage through our cooperation channels. It will have a significant impact, absolutely. Our response to that, including in terms of providing increased budgetary provisions, is something that we are currently discussing with the Home Office, and of course something that I am discussing with my own Director General.

  Q218  Chairman: Clearly what we are talking about is a formidable amount of IT communication. Have any of you had serious IT problems in terms of actually communicating all this information?

  Superintendent Flynn: The existing system, SIS I, copes with the amount of traffic. The UK will provide a considerable amount of traffic when we go live but the estimate of the amount of information exchange brought by the ten new Member States to the EU is essentially about the equivalent of what Germany provides today. So on that it is anticipated that the updated network which is being put in place now should easily be able to cope with the exchange. It is dealing with the business at the end that is the big question. From our point of view, yes, we do anticipate that there will be more work for police officers on the street, but it is actually good news because this is getting hits on people, on stolen property that hitherto we could not get. Without the Schengen Information System there is no joined-up way of receiving and managing the information and allowing police officers at street level to be able to check a German vehicle and find out if it was stolen, enter a premises, find a dozen passports and be able to do a check from the premises to see if these passports are stolen. So for us it is quite a revolution.

  Q219  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: Is it not the case that as bad as the absence of information, as bad is inaccurate information? This touches on resources. Are you satisfied that you are making progress and getting this understood in the Home Office? If a backlog builds up, like the Criminal Records Bureau, we are all in the soup.

  Mr Wainwright: Absolutely, but in answer directly to your question I am satisfied that this point is well seized at the Home Office.

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