72. EUROPOL: JOINT SUPERVISORY BODY
(13TH REPORT, SESSION 1997-98)
Letter from the Rt Hon Joyce Quin MP,
Minister of State, Home Office, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the
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
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
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