Select Committee on European Union Twelfth Report

Letter from Kate Hoey MP to Jimmy Hood MP, Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee

  I am writing in response to the reports of the European Scrutiny Committee's meetings on 21 April and 5 May. A revised consolidated text of the draft Convention on mutual assistance in criminal matters has now been deposited for scrutiny.

  I deal below with the other matters that the Committee has raised.


  The European Scrutiny Committee notes that the Government does not intend to make a declaration opting in to preliminary rulings jurisdiction for Third Pillar instruments. The Committee accepts the reasons for that decision to a limited extent, but argues that UK courts would nonetheless in practice be constrained by rulings on the interpretation of Third Pillar instruments made by the Court following references from a substantial number of Member States which have opted in to such jurisdiction.

  It is true that, if required to interpret the Third Pillar instrument underlying a particular piece of UK legislation, national courts would find any preliminary rulings issued by the ECJ as to the interpretation of that instrument very persuasive. However, they would not be formally bound to follow the decision of the Court, and, indeed, it would remain open to the Government to bring forward legislation requiring the UK courts in future to disregard the Court's interpretation.

  The Committee's argument does, of course, depend on a presumption that most other Member States will opt in to preliminary rulings jurisdiction. It remains to be seen whether this is so.


  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.

  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.


  The Committee also asks whether the Government will lift any of its declarations and reservations to the 1959 Convention or its Additional Protocol. The Government continues to think that most of the UK's declarations and reservations are necessary, but they are under review. As was explained in the Explanatory Memorandum of 20 April, the Government is giving particular consideration to the dual criminality requirement for requests for search and seizure. However, I will keep you informed about whether the UK intends to withdraw any of the declarations and reservations to the 1959 Convention or its Protocol.

  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 Lord Tordoff.

17 May 1999

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