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Justice and Home Affairs (Post-Council Statement)

Volume 498: debated on Thursday 29 October 2009

The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held in Luxembourg on 23 October 2009. My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Bach, the Scottish Minister for Community Safety, Fergus Ewing, and I attended on behalf of the United Kingdom. The following issues were discussed at the Council:

The Council began in Mixed Committee with non-EU Schengen states, receiving an update from the presidency on arrangements for the first milestone test for the second generation Schengen information system (SIS II). The UK stressed that the test should take place by the end of this year in line with the June Council conclusions. The UK also stated that it was important to distinguish between a delayed and a failed test and that it would not accept a decision on the future of SIS II unless a test had failed.

Next, the presidency presented an update on the current state of play on the implementation of the regulation establishing the Visa Information System (VIS), where technical problems would delay the launch. The UK does not participate in that regulation.

Following Mixed Committee, the presidency invited the Commission to provide a summary of the fifth annual visa reciprocity report. While the UK does not participate in the EU visa regime, we do maintain an interest in all visa issues, notably for full reciprocity with third country nationals. The Council then exchanged views on the Canadian decision to impose visas on Czech nationals. The UK believes the Commission should continue to engage with the Canadians to broker a solution.

The Council reached agreement on the draft framework decision on accreditation of forensic laboratory activities, which aims to increase mutual trust in DNA and fingerprint data exchanged between member states by requiring a minimum standard of accreditation. The presidency hoped that the framework decision would be formally adopted at the November JHA Council.

The Council then reached a general approach on the proposal for a Council decision to establish the European crime prevention network. This instrument will strengthen the network’s ability to identify, exchange and disseminate crime prevention information and actions targeted at traditional or volume crime. Following receipt of the European Parliament’s opinion on the proposal, the decision will come back to the Council on the 30 November for formal adoption.

Under any other business the Commission presented its review of visa facilitation in the western Balkans. The UK does not participate in the part of the Schengen acquis that covers visa liberalisation, and will not be lifting visit visa requirements for western Balkan states when the Schengen zone liberalises its own requirements. The UK remains a strong supporter of the EU enlargement process and the aspirations of west Balkan states for eventual EU membership.

Over lunch Home Affairs Ministers discussed proposals for the new European Asylum Office. There was a clear desire to move quickly. The UK has not yet decided which country to support to host this office.

In the afternoon, Justice Ministers adopted a Council resolution on a “roadmap” for strengthening procedural rights of suspected or accused persons in criminal proceedings. The UK supported this pragmatic approach and the focus on practical measures as well as legislation. Justice Ministers also reached a general approach on a draft framework decision and an accompanying draft resolution on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings. The UK congratulated the presidency on reaching agreement on this measure which will make a real difference to the lives of citizens.

The presidency updated Justice Ministers on the progress that has been made at official level on the proposed framework decision on transfer of proceedings in criminal matters. The UK stated that its support of this measure would depend on amendments being made to the proposal, particularly provisions relating to jurisdiction.

The presidency provided an update on negotiations and sought views with the aim of resolving outstanding issues on the framework decision on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting victims. The Commission stressed the importance of going further than the Council of Europe convention and welcomed the global approach to combating trafficking. It appealed, however, for higher levels of penalties, and for greater assistance for victims. The UK supported the presidency compromise and, despite the UK having very limited extraterritorial jurisdiction, said that it had taken the decision to extend jurisdiction to cover UK nationals who commit trafficking offences abroad given the seriousness of the offences involved. The presidency welcomed the broad support for the text and concluded that formal agreement would be reached in November.

Under any other business, the Commission presented its proposal on succession and wills, stating that its ambition was to make the lives of citizens easier. The presidency noted that there would be plenty of opportunity for discussion in the future.