By Tim Montgomerie
In the Commons yesterday the Home Secretary explained to MPs why the Government was adopting the European Investigation Order. Posted below are key highlights from her opening statement:
The need to deal with cross-border crime: "To deal with cross-border crime, countries enter into mutual legal assistance-MLA-agreements. Those agreements provide a framework through which states can obtain evidence from overseas. MLA has therefore been an important tool in the fight against international crime and terrorism."
The European Investigation Order aims to simplify and accelerate cross-border crime-fighting: "The process is fragmented and confusing for the police and prosecutors, and it is too often too slow. In some cases it takes many months to obtain vital evidence. Indeed, in one drug trafficking case the evidence arrived in the UK after the trial had been completed. The European investigation order is intended to address those problems by simplifying the system, through a standardised request form and by providing formal deadlines for the recognition and execution of requests."
The Association of Chief Police Officers want the EIO: "The Government have decided to opt into the EIO because it offers practical help for the British police and prosecutors, and we are determined to do everything we can to help them cut crime and deliver justice. That is what the police say the EIO will do. We wrote to every Association of Chief Police Officers force about the EIO, and not one said that we should not opt in. ACPO itself replied that "the EIO is a simpler instrument than those already in existence and, provided it is used sensibly and for appropriate offences, we welcome attempts to simplify and expedite mutual legal assistance.""
The EIO does not threaten civil liberties: "We will seek to maintain the draft directive's requirement that evidence should be obtained by coercive means, for example through searching a premises, only where the dual criminality requirement is satisfied. Requests for evidence from foreign authorities will still require completion of the same processes as in similar domestic cases. In order to search a house, for example, police officers will still need to obtain a warrant. The execution of the EIO must be compatible with the European convention on human rights. That means that there must be a clear link between the alleged criminality and the assistance requested, otherwise complying with the request would be in breach of article 8 of the ECHR, on private and family life."
Although the Home Secretary's statement was welcomed by a series of Labour MPs, Conservatives were less happy:
Bill Cash complained that the European Scrutiny Committee had not had opportunity to investigate the EIO: "I am deeply concerned that the EIO has not been considered by the European Scrutiny Committee, which was formally set up last night, and nor have many other important matters. The legal basis is qualified majority voting, co-decision and the European Court of Justice under the Lisbon treaty. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the EIO applies to all investigative measures, and that it gives undue rights to police officers from other European countries to order our police to gather sensitive personal information -and, furthermore, DNA and banking records-in relation to non-criminal matters, and from those who are not even suspects? The grounds for refusing an EIO request are totally inadequate, and I am sure that the ESC will demand a debate and call evidence, but regrettably, it cannot do so until 8 September, because it has not been called to sit until then."
Mrs May: "I must tell my hon. Friend that decisions on when the ESC meets are rather more a matter for him-as I understand it, he is the Chair of that Committee-than for me. However, I share some of his concern. As he and other Members of the House will know, I have written a pamphlet and proposed a 10-point plan on how Parliament can have more of an opportunity to have a say on, and to debate, decisions on European matters. The instrument came before the Government on 29 April with a three-month deadline for decision. Of course, that period was partly taken up by the election, and the ESC was formed only last night, as my hon. Friend said. In the normal course of events in Parliament, the ESC could suggest the matter for debate. On that point, it is certainly my hope that when the Government propose to opt in on a major JHA issue, Parliament can consider it. However, I hesitate to give more of a guarantee than that, because what happens in Parliament is a matter for the business managers rather than for me. On the powers that my hon. Friend claims the EIO gives to foreign police forces and others, I must tell him that I think he is wrong."
John Redwood worried that the EIO amounts to a passing of power to the EU: "Many of us were elected on a programme of no more powers whatever passing to the European Union. Given that the Home Secretary promised us that no sovereignty would be transferred by the EIO, will she reassure us of that by putting into the draft proposal a simple clause that says that Britain can withdraw from the arrangement at any time if it proves to be not as advertised? If we have that clause, we are sovereign; if we do not have it, we are not sovereign."
Mrs May: "I did make that statement on sovereignty in relation to the EIO. We are opting in to the draft directive, over which there will be negotiations in the coming months. However, I said what I said because the order and the directive are not about sovereignty moving to Europe, but about making a practical step of co-operation to ensure that it will be easier for us not only to fight crime, but crucially, to ensure that justice is done."
[Mr Redwood writes more about this issue on his blog].
Jacob Rees-Mogg saw the EIO as another power grab by Brussels: "As the final text will be determined by qualified majority vote, how may we be certain that we will not cede powers to Europe? Does the Home Secretary recall the words of a great and noble lady who, when Europe was trying to snatch powers, once said from that very Dispatch box, "No, no, no"? Is not that a much preferable way in which to approach a further European grab?"
Mrs May: "In the coming months we will be negotiating the final text of the directive with other member states. The early indications, from discussions with other member states, are that our concerns about the parts of the directive where we think that the drafting is not perfect, and more can be done, are shared by other member states, which is why we are confident we can arrive at a text that meets all the requirements that we want to set out. But is my hon. Friend really saying that he wants us to hamper the efforts of our police to bring people to justice and fight crime? I sincerely hope not. This measure will help the police to ensure that justice is done and crime beaten."