Select Committee on European Communities Thirteenth Report


THIRTEENTH REPORT

17 February 1998

  By the Select Committee appointed to consider Community proposals, whether in draft or otherwise, to obtain all necessary information about them, and to make reports on those which, in the opinion of the Committee, raise important questions of policy or principle, and on other questions to which the Committee considers that the special attention of the House should be drawn.

ORDERED TO REPORT

EUROPOL: JOINT SUPERVISORY BODY
11330/97 Draft rules of procedure of joint supervisory body

  1.    The creation of the European Police Office (Europol), providing a framework for the exchange of information between national police forces, is an important step in the fight against crime. In its 1995 Report, Europol,[1] the Select Committee concluded that the establishment of an effective Europol would lead to important benefits to the public. But we added that given the dangers to individuals there must be effective remedies and Europol must be accountable for its policies and actions.

  2.    The Convention establishing Europol contains detailed provisions for the protection of data held by Europol and gives the individual a right of access to data held on him. Data which is incorrect or held by Europol in contravention of the Convention must be corrected or deleted. Supervision of this process is twofold. Each Member State has to designate a national supervisory body to monitor the lawfulness of the input, retrieval and any communication to Europol of personal data by the Member State concerned. (It is expected that the Data Protection Registrar will perform this function in respect of the United Kingdom.) The Convention also establishes an independent joint supervisory body, comprised of representatives from each of the national supervisory bodies, to review the activities of Europol in order to ensure that the rights of the individual are not violated by the storage, processing and utilisation of the data held by Europol. The joint supervisory body should also monitor the permissibility of the transmission of data originating from Europol. It will be able to carry out checks and investigate alleged violations of the Convention's data protection rules. In its 1995 Report the Select Committee strongly supported the requirement for designation of national supervisory authorities and the joint supervisory body to monitor the activities of Europol relating to the collection and use of data.

  3.    The Convention was concluded in July 1995 but does not come into force until ratified by all the Member States. The present position is that it has been ratified by nine Member States[2]. Though the deadline set at the Dublin European Council that all Member States should ratify by the end of 1997 has passed, it is still hoped that the Convention will enter into force during the first half of 1998. To enable the practical work to begin, a number of implementing rules and regulations have to be made[3].

  4.    The draft rules of procedure of the joint supervisory body describe its tasks, establish its working methods and powers and, of particular interest to the individual, set out the detailed rules and procedures of the Appeals Committee which will examine complaints from those dissatisfied with the response which Europol has given. The Convention provides that individuals have "the right to request the joint supervisory body to ensure that the manner in which his personal data have been collected, stored, processed and utilized by Europol is lawful and accurate" (Article 24(4)). The rules lay down the detailed procedure for the handling and examination of such complaints, including the complainant's right to be heard.

  5.    A copy of the draft rules of procedure for the joint supervisory body was furnished to the Select Committee by the Government and was sifted to Sub-Committee E (Law and Institutions) for scrutiny. To assist its consideration of the proposal the Sub-Committee sought the views of the Data Protection Registrar and of Justice (both of whom had assisted the Sub-Committee in its earlier enquiries into the Convention and its implementing rules).

  6.    At its meeting on 4 February Sub-Committee E considered the draft rules of procedure, with the assistance of the Government's Explanatory Note and the two submissions. The Government said that several concerns remained to be addressed and reconciled relating to the nature of the joint supervisory body and how closely its procedures should be modelled on those of a court. The Registrar identified a divergence of view amongst Data Protection Commissioners as to whether the joint supervisory body should be seen and conduct itself as an administrative body rather than as a court. The problem arose because the Europol Convention did not provide judicial machinery at European level for the resolution of disputes.

  7.    The Sub-Committee noted that both the Registrar and Justice were favourable towards the Government's approach, which was to avoid cumbersome and complicated procedures. The Sub-Committee also noted that both the Registrar and Justice acknowledged that when the joint supervisory body was acting through its Appeals Committee a more formal procedure might be necessary which satisfied the "fair trial" requirements of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Both the Registrar and Justice also said that adequate resources should be made available to enable the joint supervisory body to perform its tasks effectively.

  8.    The joint supervisory body has a key role to play under the Europol Convention. The purpose of this Report is to make available to the House the evidence given by the Data Protection Registrar and Justice.

RECOMMENDATION

  9.    The Committee draws attention to the importance of the rules in the safeguarding by the joint supervisory body of the individual's rights under the Convention relating to the handling and use of personal data. The Committee makes this Report to the House for information.


1   10th Report, Session 1994-95, HL Paper 51-1. Back

2   The United Kingdom was the first to ratify, on 10 December 1997. Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden have also ratified the Convention. Back

3   In June 1997 the Select Committee reported to the House on the Confidentiality Regulations of Europol (1st Report, Session 1997-98, HL Paper 9). Back


 
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