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Justice and Home Affairs Council

Volume 447: debated on Thursday 22 June 2006

The Justice and Home Affairs Council was held on 1-2 June 2006 in Luxembourg. My noble and learned Friend the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, and my noble Friend Baroness Ashton attended the meeting. I thought it would be useful if I were to outline what was discussed and decided at the Council.

The Austrian presidency opened the Council with the ‘A’ points list which was approved.

The presidency secured a general approach to the European Evidence Warrant (EEW) following lengthy negotiations. Discussion at Council focused on the two key issues of territoriality and definitions of offences. A ground for refusal based on where the offence took place was agreed, subject to the requirement that any decision is taken “in exceptional circumstances and on a case by case basis” and after consulting Eurojust. The provision will be reviewed within five years of the EEW coming into force. Proposals to create definitions of certain offences for which dual criminality will not be applied in the framework decision remained unacceptable to most member states and agreement was only possible by allowing Germany to reserve the right to refuse assistance in respect of six offences if the definition of the offence is not that required by Germany. We are content with this compromise solution as we believe that, in practice, very few if any EEW requests relating to serious crime would be affected. I am aware that there are outstanding issues and hope that we can allay any concerns.

There was discussion on the mutual recognition of custodial sentences. A number of member states maintain that a prisoner’s consent should be the general rule although there was a split in the Council. The issue of definition of residence has been remitted to official level.

The presidency concluded that further work was required on the proposal for a framework decision on certain procedural rights. This will continue at senior official level with the UK urging the presidency to ensure future discussion fully involves the Council of Europe. Work will continue on both the legal instrument and proposals for practical measures. There remain concerns over the legal base with the Government noting that there is a risk of legal uncertainty created by the creation of a parallel legal instrument to the ECHR.

A general approach was agreed on a European small claims procedure. The UK supported this as it fulfilled the three principles agreed under the UK presidency that a small claims procedure be simple, swift and inexpensive.

A general approach was not reached on the draft Council decision on asset recovery offices. The presidency will seek a compromise with a view to adopting the Council decision as an ‘A’ point at the next JHA Council.

The presidency noted the report on the future of Europol setting out concrete suggestions for improving the functioning of Europol and that it provided an excellent basis on which future presidencies could build. The question of whether to move to a more flexible legal framework than a convention remained open. The Council conclusions were agreed, subject to a drafting change, based on a UK proposal; the government feels it is premature to state in the Council conclusions that the Europol convention will be converted to a Council decision.

The presidency summarised the Vienna ministerial conference of 4-5 May and hoped to continue the dialogue that had been held between the EU, the US and Russia. Agreement was reached on the conclusions on the Organised Crime Threat Assessment (OCTA).

There were presentations on the implementation of the EU counter-terrorism strategy and the follow up to Hampton Court as well as a lunch time presentation from Mr. Michel Barnier on his recent report on crisis management. Council also heard from the commission on its initial reaction to the ECJ judgment on passenger name records and on the safe third country list.

In the mixed Committee, two subjects were discussed. A general approach was agreed on the revised test of the regulation on the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II). The presidency clarified that UK and Ireland asylum authorities would not have access. Commission Vice-President, Mr. Franco Frattini, made a presentation of a proposal for common application centres for visas.