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Justice and Home Affairs Council

Volume 481: debated on Monday 20 October 2008

The Justice and Home Affairs Council will be held on 24 October 2008 in Luxembourg. My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach), the Scottish Minister for Community Safety (Fergus Ewing) and I will attend on behalf of the United Kingdom. As the provisional agenda stands, the following items will be discussed:

The Council will concentrate on interior and justice issues. The morning of the Council will focus on interior items, starting with the Mixed Committee also attended by Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. The presidency will give an update on the state of play of the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II). The Council will then be asked to adopt the council decision and regulation published by the Commission on 16 April 2008 establishing the legal framework governing the migration from the Schengen Information System in its current form, SIS 1+, to SIS II. The UK is content to adopt the texts in their current form. The presidency will then request that member states approve the amending SISNET budget for 2008. The UK is content to approve the budget.

The presidency is seeking to agree Council conclusions on proposals to set up national alert platforms and a European platform for reporting offences on the internet. Europol is being invited to conduct an impact assessment with a view to establishing and then hosting the European platform. This platform would receive alerts on offences from the national platforms of the European Union’s member states. The UK is broadly supportive since the draft would enable us to rely on existing national platforms to feed the European platform.

The presidency is seeking to agree Council conclusions on the Principle of Convergence, which aims to improve EU police co-operation through a range of measures such as improved police training, better use of technology and equipment and joint investigation teams, where this can be seen to add value. The UK supports the initiative where it focuses on practical measures to enhance police co-operation.

The presidency has issued a paper to guide debate on West African drugs (cocaine) trafficking. Drug trafficking through West Africa causes harm to EU citizens, undermines the impact of regional EU development assistance, and undermines governance in the region. The UK believes that there needs to be an EU co-ordinated response to the threat and this is an excellent opportunity for us to steer that response.

The Council will discuss the Commission proposal on the use of passenger name records (PNR) data for law enforcement purposes, which restrict the processing of PNR data to flights between third countries and EU member states only for the purposes of counter-terrorism and combating organised crime. The UK wishes to see an EU level framework that sets a minimum level of harmonisation for the processing of PNR data, allowing member states to legislate domestically for additional collection and uses of PNR data. The Council will be asked to note progress on these issues and give a mandate for working group discussions to continue.

Ministers will be asked to agree the creation of a European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS). This proposal is designed to create a computerised conviction information exchange system between member states. The UK will support this as the arrangements will allow the system to function smoothly, enable the technical work to progress without unnecessary bureaucracy and ensure that member states maintain a sufficient degree of control.

The presidency will be seeking political agreement on the articles of the proposal for a Council regulation on jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of decisions and co-operation in maintenance obligations. It is planned that the recitals and standard forms will be agreed at the Council in November. As the UK did not opt in to this proposal we will have no vote. However, following the compromise on applicable law rules which was agreed to enable the UK to participate in the adopted regulation, we hope to be in a position to signify our wish to accept the measure under the terms of article 4 of the UK-Ireland protocol.

The Council will be asked to approve guidelines on the protection of vulnerable adults which encourage those member states that want to accede to the Hague convention of 13 January 2000 on the international protection of vulnerable adults to sign and/or ratify it as soon as possible and, once sufficient experience has been acquired in the operation of this convention, to invite the Commission to consider whether there is a need for additional measures at Community level. The Government support these guidelines. The UK has signed the Hague convention and has ratified it for Scotland. Ratification for the rest of the UK is to follow.

The Council will also be asked to agree a resolution for a set of non-binding guidelines on judicial training. The aim is to promote a better understanding among judges throughout the EU of European law, and the legal systems of other member states. There is a perception that, in some countries, established EU mechanisms of judicial co-operation are not being used in cases where they would assist, simply because the judges concerned are not aware of them. These guidelines recognise that Government are, in many countries, not themselves responsible for judicial training. They do not give rise to any obligations either on the Government or the judiciary.

The next JHA Council will take place on 27 and 28 November in Brussels.