Select Committee on European Union Twelfth Report

Letter from Kate Hoey MP to Lord Tordoff

  Thank you for your letter of 6 May. A revised consolidated text of the draft Convention on mutual assistance in criminal matters has now been deposited for scrutiny.

  I will write separately regarding your queries on the interception provisions of the Convention. I deal below with the other matters which Sub-Committee E has raised.


  You ask for clarification of the principles of law that we would consider to be "fundamental" in considering a request for assistance with a hearing by telephone. The Committee is already aware that a witness or expert giving evidence by telephone would be assisting on a purely voluntary basis. The person would be contacted in advance of the request, which would then indicate that the person was willing to assist. It is difficult to envisage that, simply because the evidence would be given by telephone, a fundamental principle of UK law would be involved. The fact that we would not be willing to receive evidence into proceedings in the UK by telephone would not itself be a basis for refusing assistance of this kind to other Member States. The presumption would therefore be that we should acquiesce in the request for assistance in the absence of other, countervailing, factors.

  In the event that there were countervailing factors of some kind, then we would not necessarily assist with the request for the giving of evidence by telephone. For example, if the accused person in the requesting Member State had already been convicted or acquitted in the UK or a third country of an offence arising from the same criminal conduct giving rise to the proceedings, then we would refuse the request. To assist in such a case would indeed be contrary to fundamental principles of our law.


  I have written separately in response to your letter of 19 April regarding the participation of Europol in police operations in the context of a draft Joint Action (now a Council Resolution) on combating international crime with fuller cover of the routes used.

  The draft proposal contemplates that Europol officers should be involved in joint investigation teams set up under the Convention where that is thought appropriate in the circumstances of the case. The Article may need to be re-drafted to reflect that intention.

  The Member States are still discussing in Brussels the detail of how joint teams established under the Convention should operate, but it is a long standing UK position that Europol staff should not have operational powers. Instead Europol should add value to on-going investigations undertaken by joint teams through the provision of analytical and expert support. There would also be capacity for Europol to take a leading role in providing facilities for co-ordinating international investigations from a central point.

  You also ask about the relationship between the proposed provision on joint investigation teams and the existing provision in Article 24 of the (Naples II) Convention on mutual assistance and co-operation between customs administrations. The proposed Article goes further than the Naples II provision in that any officer seconded to the team, including a customs officer, may be granted the power of intervention in the Member State in which the team is operating where that is agreed between the Member States concerned and permitted by national law. The Government has not opposed this provision because it is purely permissive ie it would not require us to permit the exercise of executive powers in the UK by officers from abroad. We have no plans to confer such powers.

  I shall of course submit for scrutiny any further proposals on the Convention in the usual way.

  I am sending a copy of this letter to Jimmy Hood.

17 May 1999

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