Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twenty-First Report


JOINT INVESTIGATION TEAMS


(22977)
14242/01
— 

Council Framework Decision on joint investigation teams.


Legal base:Articles 31(a) and 34(2)(b) EU; consultation; unanimity
Department:Home Office
Basis of consideration: Minister's letter of 13 February 2002
Previous Committee Report: HC 152-x (2001-02), paragraph 14 (12 December 2001)
To be discussed in Council: In the next few months
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared (decision reported on 12 December 2001)



Background

  12.1  The aim of the document is to bring into effect those provisions in the Convention of 29 May 2000 on mutual assistance in criminal matters[25] which deal with joint investigation teams by presenting them as a Framework Decision. We cleared the document in December on the basis of a letter from the Parliamentary Under­Secretary of State at the Home Office (Mr Bob Ainsworth) in which he undertook to let us know how the Government intended to operate the Decision.

The Minister's letter

  12.2  The Minister has now written to us again. He begins by reporting that, although the Framework Decision has not yet been adopted by the Council because a number of Member States still have scrutiny reserves on it, these are likely to be lifted in the near future, and certainly well before the implementation date of 1 July.

  12.3  The Minister then gives us a very full account of the Government's proposals. He explains that provisions to address the issue of the liabilities of officials have been included in the Police Reform Bill which received its Second Reading in the House of Lords on 5 February. These will apply to England, Wales and Scotland; counterpart provisions for Northern Ireland will be introduced as proposed amendments to the Bill. As the Bill may not be law by 1 July (the implementation date for the Framework Decision), the Government also plans to introduce draft Regulations under section 111 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, which would be repealed once the Bill came into effect.

  12.4  The Minister tells us that the provisions will meet not only the requirements of the Framework Decision, but also of those of the EU Convention on mutual assistance in criminal matters (where liabilities relate to controlled deliveries and covert investigations as well as joint investigation teams) and the Schengen Implementing Convention (where liabilities relate to cross-border surveillance).

  12.5  The new provisions make chief officers of police and the Directors General of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad liable for any unlawful conduct of those whom they employ or who act under their control, including members of joint investigation teams formed in accordance with specified international agreements. The Bill will make it an offence to assault or obstruct members of international joint investigation teams.

  12.6  The detailed arrangements for operating the teams will be set out in agreements between Member States' competent authorities. The Government envisages the Directors General or the chief officer of police for the police area where the team would be based while in the UK negotiating the agreement with his opposite numbers abroad, including questions of liability (which would operate on a reciprocal basis) and accommodation costs.

  12.7  The Minister continues:

    "The agreement would also explain that officers from abroad would not, while in the UK, have coercive powers such as authority to apply for search warrants or to interview suspects or make arrests. They would, in general, be entitled to be present when investigative measures are taken, and the agreement would make clear that it would be for the team leader to specify the conditions which must apply. For example, if the officers were to be present at a search of premises, the warrant would have to name them, in conformity with relevant law in the UK. But there would be no objection, subject to the team leader's approval, to an officer from abroad carrying out for example a routine search of publicly available documents in a public Registry."

  12.8  The Minister tells us that the Home Office will issue a Circular as soon as the Framework Decision is adopted to provide guidance on matters to be taken into account when agreements are drafted. Amongst these will be the need to ensure that foreign officers do not have diplomatic or other privileges and immunities while on the team in the UK.

  12.9  The Circular will also address the question of members of teams provided by third countries or by international bodies such as Europol. The Minister tells us:

    "Our law enforcement agencies and, we understand, their counterparts in other Member States do not see an operational need for officers from abroad, whether or not third countries or from, for example, Europol, to have more than advisory functions and observer status while members of teams. But [they] do attach importance to ensuring that [such] officers ....are in much the same position regarding liabilities and immunities, and have much the same rights to be present when investigative measures are taken, as officers who are from other Member States. This is to make for better team working. The precise arrangements for involving [such] officers ...would be set out in the agreements with the partner Member States' competent authorities. The third countries' competent authorities and the Director of Europol would also need to be parties to the agreements."

  12.10  However, the Minister reports that Europol's ability to support joint teams on much the same basis as officers from other Member States will not be possible until the Europol Convention has been amended. It will not be feasible to do this before the Framework Decision has been adopted.

Conclusion

  12.11  We thank the Minister for keeping us informed of progress on this proposal, and for giving us such a full explanation of the way in which the Government plans to operate the Framework Decision.

  12.12  In considering an earlier version of this document[26], we were concerned about the powers that might be granted to foreign officers in teams operating in the UK, and about the role and liability of Europol officers. We are therefore pleased to learn that the Government is taking these issues seriously.

  12.13  We have already cleared the document.



25  OJ No. C 197,12.7.00, p. 1. Back

26  HC 152-ii (2001-02), paragraph 41 (17 October 2001). Back


 
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