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.
MUTUAL ASSISTANCE IN CRIMINAL
|Draft Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters between the Member States of the European Union
PART 1 INTRODUCTION
1. Criminal activities
and those involved in them do not necessarily respect national
boundaries. For many years those charged with the investigation
and enforcement of the criminal law have co-operated with and
assisted each other, formally and informally. There exists a
number of international agreements, multilateral and bilateral,
dealing with mutual legal assistance in criminal matters. Typically
they provide for one State upon a formal request from another
to assist in serving process and in the obtaining of evidence.
In some cases they may extend to the freezing or confiscation
2. Some mutual assistance
agreements are general in scope. Others are more specific, such
as the United Nations Convention against the Illicit Traffic in
Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances 1988. The United Kingdom
is a party to that Convention and a number of other agreements.
Within the Commonwealth, assistance is provided under the Scheme
relating to Mutual Assistance within the Commonwealth. Within
Europe, the principal instrument is the European Convention on
Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters 1959, to which some thirty
States, including all the Member States of the European Union,
are party. The United Kingdom also has a Treaty on Mutual Legal
Assistance in Criminal Matters with the United States of America.
3. Though work had been
commenced in the Council of Europe on the revision of the 1959
Convention, the European Union decided to bring forward a proposal
of its own, as part of its Action Plan to combat organised crime.
The draft Convention aims to make mutual assistance between the
Member States quicker and more effective. It includes provisions
concerning certain modern cross-border investigation methods.
This Report examines the proposal and some of its novel features.
4. A draft of the Convention
was considered by Sub-Committee E in November 1996. Following
correspondence with the Home Office (in particular on the question
of data protection), it was cleared from scrutiny in January 1997.
A revised version, dated 6 May 1997, was submitted for scrutiny
in late July 1997. A preliminary examination revealed that it
was substantially different from the version previously considered.
In particular the draft Convention had been extended to include
provisions on intercepting terrestrial and satellite telecommunications
and permitting controlled deliveries of suspect consignments.
These provisions appeared to go beyond normal measures of judicial
co-operation and to raise major issues relating to civil liberties.
A further revision, dated 30 September 1997, was furnished in
November and yet another version, dated 14 November 1997, at the
beginning of December.
5. The Sub-Committee
decided to undertake a short enquiry into the proposal. The shortness
does not indicate any lack of importance of the proposal but merely
reflects the urgency of the matter. The Action Plan to combat
organised crime calls for the Convention to be completed by mid
Negotiations are proceeding apace and the Sub-Committee was concerned
that the issues raised by the proposal should be presented to
the House as early as possible in the United Kingdom's Presidency.
6. Witnesses drew attention
to the potential overlap of the draft Convention on Mutual Assistance
in Criminal Matters with the proposed Convention on Mutual Assistance
and Co-operation between Customs Administrations ("Naples
II") and the similarity of a number of its provisions (for
example, in relation to controlled deliveries). Naples II was
furnished for scrutiny during the course of Sub-Committee E's
examination of the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal
Matters and the Sub-Committee decided to consider the two proposals
alongside each other.
7. The membership of
Sub-Committee E (Law and Institutions) is listed in Appendix 1.
The Committee would like to thank all the witnesses who gave
evidence in the enquiry, particularly Ms Joyce Quin MP, Minister
of State at the Home Office, who together with officials from
that Department and from Customs and Excise gave oral evidence.
The witnesses are listed in Appendix 2. Appendix 3 sets out
the text of the draft Convention. Appendix 4 contains memoranda
supplied by the Home Office and the correspondence between the
Chairman of the Select Committee and the Minister. Appendix 5
contains the correspondence between the Chairman and the Financial
Secretary and memoranda relating to the Naples II Convention and
the final text of that Convention. The evidence, both written
and oral, is printed with the Report.
Recommendation 16. The Action Plan was adopted by the Council
on 28 April 1997:  O.J. C.251/1. Back
The Naples II Convention was, however, formally cleared from scrutiny
on 17 December 1997. The circumstances surrounding the urgency
of that decision are set out in the correspondence (reproduced
in Appendix 5) between Lord Tordoff and the Financial Secretary. Back