Select Committee on European Communities Report


Letter from the Rt Hon Joyce Quin MP, Minister of State, Home Office, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  The Government welcomes the Select Committee's report on the draft rules of procedure of the Joint Supervisory Body of Europol. We share the Committee's view of the importance of these rules, and the need to safeguard the rights of the individual with regard to the handling and use of personal data by Europol. We note that the Committee itself has not made any recommendations, but we welcome the opportunity to respond to the comments made in the evidence submitted to the Committee by the Data Protection Registrar and Justice.


  The Registrar notes that there is a difference of opinion amongst delegations regarding the nature of the Joint Supervisory Body (JSB), and in particular whether it should be an administrative body, able to act in a practical, informal manner, or whether it should adopt more formal, quasi-judicial procedures. The Government shares the view of the Registrar that the "administrative" approach is more desirable. The Government also believes that it should be possible to find a balance between the two opposing views, which will allow the JSB to act in a practical and efficient manner, whilst satisfying the requirements of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

  The Government also recognises the difficulties identified by the Registrar over the membership of the JSB. We take the view that the Convention implies that there should be a close relationship between members of the JSB and the national supervisory bodies. It is also our view that it is essential that there is some provision within the rules for removal of members of the JSB in cases of incompetence or incapacity, although we do not believe that this would be incompatible with independence from the national supervisory bodies. The Government is also strongly opposed to the suggestion that members of the Appeals Committee must have a legal qualification.

  We recognise the desirablity of an effective Secretariat if the JSB is to operate in the efficient manner outlined by the Registrar, and also the need for resources to be made available for this purpose. To this end, we would draw attention to Article 24(9) of the Europol Convention, which states that the JSB shall be consulted on the relevant part of the annual budget for Europol, and its opinion shall be annexed to the draft budget submitted to the Council. We believe that this should ensure that the views of the JSB are made clear before the relevant funding decisions are taken.

  The final point made by the Registrar concerns the need for outside experts to be used by the JSB in the course of its work. We hope that it will be possible to agree a system which allows such support to be utilised whilst also ensuring the security of the information handled by Europol.


  The first point made by Justice also concerns the need for adequate resources to be made available to the JSB, which is covered above.

  Justice suggest that the JSB should be given a mandate to monitor Europol's arrangements for data security. Whilst recognising the importance of this issue, we are confident that the other mechanisms which will be put in place (in particular the rules on confidentiality and the Security Manual), as well as the provisions in the Convention, will be sufficient to ensure the security of data handled by Europol.

  On the question of transparency raised in Paragraphs 9-12 of Justice's evidence, we agree that as much openness as possible with regard to the proceedings of the JSB is desirable, whilst always ensuring the proper protection of the confidentiality of Europol information. However, we do not feel strongly that Articles 6(4) and 10(2) of the draft rules need to be reworded, as we believe that they provide sufficient flexibility for the JSB, as an independent body, either to publish or withhold documents as it sees fit. On the question of the frequency of the activity reports, we would draw attention to the wording of Article 10(1) of the draft rules, which states that the JSB shall draw up an activity report "at least once every two years". Again, we believe that, as an independent body, it is for the JSB to decide whether it would be appropriate for a report be drawn up more frequently.

  Justice perceive a difficulty with the Appeals Committee being a body against whom there is no judicial remedy (they refer to the provision in Article 24(7) of the Convention that "decisions taken [by the Appeals Committee] shall be final as regards all the parties concerned"). They propose that those dissatisfied with a decision of the Appeals Committee should be able to appeal to the Court of First Instance or the European Court of Justice. It would be very difficult to reopen this question now, when the Convention has been signed and ratified by nearly all Member States. We are, however, satisfied that the present Convention can be made to operate satisfactorily.

  Justice also consider that legal aid for appellants to the JSB should be granted when a complaint is declared "admissible", and that for the proceedings of the Appeals Committee, interpretation should be provided free of charge. These points are the focus of considerable discussion at present and go to the debate on the nature of the JSB ("court-like" or "administrative"). We agree that appellants should be able to understand the proceedings of the Appeals Committee and recognise the case that assistance with representation will sometimes be desirable. However the scale and automaticity of such assistance needs further consideration.

  The final point on which Justice express a view is their wish to see the headquarters of the JSB based in the Hague (but not within the headquarters of Europol), in order to minimise costs and time spent travelling. We agree, and hope this outcome will be achieved.

30 April 1998

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