Select Committee on European Communities Fourteenth 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.


Draft Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters between the Member States of the European Union


  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 of assets.

  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 1998.[1] 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.[2]

  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.

1   Recommendation 16. The Action Plan was adopted by the Council on 28 April 1997: [1997] O.J. C.251/1.  Back

2   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

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1998