Joint Committee On Human Rights Third Report


3. Further letter from Lord Filkin, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State,

Home Office, to the Chairman

CRIME (INTERNATIONAL CO -OPERATION) BILL

Crime (International Co-operation) Bill—Government amendments to introduce mutual recognition of orders freezing terrorist property

I am writing to let you know that we intend to table Government amendments to the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill, which will introduce the mutual recognition of orders freezing terrorist property. I am writing in similar terms to Lord Dholakia and Baroness Anelay. We hope to table these amendments early next week. I anticipate that the amendments will be discussed towards the end of Committee stage.

As you may already be aware, the Bill as it stands introduces the mutual recognition of the evidence freezing provisions of the EU Framework Decision on the execution of orders freezing property and evidence. It has not been possible to introduce the asset freezing measures of the Framework Decision for all serious crime in this Bill due to the complexities of matching the requirements of the Framework Decision with the existing UK asset freezing provisions in the Proceeds of Crime Act.

However, we are keen to take the opportunity of the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill to introduce the aspects of the Framework Decision relating to the freezing of terrorist property, which forms a key part of the post 11 September EU anti-terrorism road map. The amendments will further demonstrate the Government's commitment to combating terrorism at all possible levels.

  

The Terrorism Act 2000 already makes provision for the freezing of terrorist assets in a way which is compatible with the Framework Decision. Schedule 4 to the 2000 Act provides for restraint orders (which carry out the same functions as freezing orders) to secure property, with a view to later confiscation. These orders specifically apply to property that is supplied or intended to be used for terrorism, that represents the proceeds of terrorism or that has been used to pay someone for committing a terrorist act.

Our proposed amendments will introduce new provisions into Schedule 4 to the Terrorism Act 2000 setting out the procedure for transmitting restraint orders abroad under the Framework Decision. This would mean that when an application is made to the High Court under the Act, a request might also be submitted for the Court to sign the certificate required by the Framework Decision for the order to be transmitted overseas. The order and certificate would then be sent to the Secretary of State for forwarding to the state where the property in question is believed to be located. The requested state would be required to execute the order on the basis of mutual recognition, under the terms set out in the Framework Decision. Such provisions will operate between existing and future Member States of the EU.

With regard to incoming freezing orders, the Terrorism Act 2000 already provides for the enforcement of external restraint orders to be dealt with by Order in Council. We propose, however, to deal with the main provisions for enforcing incoming freezing orders sent to the UK under the Framework Decision on the face of the legislation, by inserting appropriate provisions into Schedule 4 of the Terrorism Act. The procedure for executing incoming requests will work similarly to the procedure already set out in the Bill for the execution of evidence freezing orders in clauses 20-25. UK courts will exercise limited discretion over the execution of orders, though they will be able to refuse orders in restricted circumstances, such as where it is considered that such an order infringes convention rights.

In your letter to me of 5 December, the Committee provisionally concluded that that Bill is compatible with relevant human rights obligations. The Committee did have concerns over the implications of customer information and account monitoring orders (clauses 32-46) and surveillance by overseas police and customs officers in the UK (clauses 83-85), but I believe that the Committee was adequately satisfied by my response of 16 December on these points.

The provisions on freezing terrorist assets could be seen to engage Convention rights, particularly the right to property. However, the Government considers that interference with this right is justified insofar as it is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the prevention of disorder or crime. The provisions are limited to terrorist assets and instrumentalities. The restraint orders in the Terrorism Act are made on the grounds that a person has been or may be convicted of an offence under sections 15 to 18 of the Terrorism Act, and that property is or may be made the subject of a forfeiture order. The restraint orders prevent a person dealing with the property to protect it prior to its forfeiture. The system of restraint and forfeiture orders in the Terrorism Act may only be used to limit the capability of terrorist organisations.

Asset freezing has proved to be an effective weapon in destabilising terrorist organisations, and preventing groups from profiting from terrorist activity. The new provisions provide for the mutual recognition of freezing orders between Member States. The same safeguards apply in relation to Terrorism Act restraint orders made in relation to property situated abroad as apply in to such orders made in relation to UK property. And a UK court will not be required to give effect to a freezing order made by a court in another Member State in relation to UK property if to do so would be incompatible with any Convention rights.

In summary, I believe that the introduction of these measures is compatible with Convention rights, and will provide us with another useful tool to use against terrorists. I hope that the Committee will be satisfied that these new proposals are in line with Convention rights.

8 January 2003


 
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