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House of Lords Hansard
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EU: European Investigation Order
27 July 2010
Volume 720

Question

Asked By

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to opt into the European Investigation Order.

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a patron of Fair Trials International.

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My Lords, the Secretary of State for the Home Department has today made a Statement in the other place to the effect that the UK has today formally indicated to the President of the European Council that the UK wishes to opt into the EIO.

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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that response, but I hope she will forgive me if I ask her to recognise that many people were very disturbed by this decision. Is she aware that at present, inter alia, there is no agreed basic standard across Europe for pre-trial evidence gathering and analysis, no implementation of basic minimum procedural defence safeguards and no coherent data protection regime? As a result there is a widespread view that there is likely to be an inequality of arms between defence and prosecution, and that will cover important areas such as proportionality, extraterritoriality and double jeopardy. Given this, would it not have been better for us not to opt in, bearing in mind that we cannot opt out once we have opted in, until we saw the final shape of the document and could be certain that its contents would provide satisfactory safeguards for our civil liberties? Otherwise, are we not signing, or have we not signed, a blank cheque?

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My Lords, I have to disagree with my noble friend. We believe that opting into the EIO is in the interests of justice. It does not transfer any jurisdiction, which is what many might have feared, and we actually believe that the system of mutual legal assistance, which is already operating, deserves to be improved by one of the main innovations that will take place as a result of the EIO—setting deadlines for the receipt of evidence that is sent from one country to another. That is one of the current defects of mutual legal assistance. In other respects, the EIO does not change the present regime.

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My Lords, I welcome today’s decision by the Government, which perhaps gives little comfort to the noble Lord who asked the Question. Should it not be the case—will the Minister agree?—that there should be greater consideration of the rights of the suspect, and should this not include judicial scrutiny at both the issuing and executing stages?

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I am afraid that I did not hear the noble Lord’s question. Can he repeat it, please?

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Fortunately it was brief. Does the Minister agree that there should be greater consideration of the rights of the suspect and that it should include judicial scrutiny at both the issuing and executing stages?

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My Lords, there are certainly some reservations about the operation of mutual legal assistance, which is a separate issue from the actual operation of, or changes to, the regime that the EIO will bring. Some of the matters that we are reviewing include the reservations expressed about the operation of mutual legal assistance.

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My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that this is a great extension of the European Union’s power and influence over policing in this country and, indeed, over the judiciary? Can I have her assurance that this matter will be discussed in full by both Houses of Parliament?

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An understood procedure for considering issues of this kind was laid down by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton. The Government are following that procedure. The order resulting from that will follow the normal procedure in the European Union.

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My Lords, does my noble friend think that opting into an arrangement whereby foreign police and other authorities can instruct British police to gather evidence on their behalf sits very well with the proposal for elected police commissioners, in the interests of the big society?

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I have to say to my noble friend that there is no provision whereby and no way in which, under the EIO, foreign police authorities can exercise jurisdiction in this country. It is not a provision of the EIO, is not a feature of the MLA, and will not happen.

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My Lords, my noble friend may have misunderstood me. I did not suggest that foreign police officers would be able to exercise jurisdiction. I suggested that, as I understood it, this new departure would allow foreign police authorities to instruct British police authorities to gather evidence on their behalf. Is that so or not?

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I apologise to my noble friend if I misunderstood his question. Foreign police may request the assistance of British police. They may not instruct.

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My Lords, is that not a transfer of sovereignty which, under coalition policy, ought to be put to a referendum?

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The noble Lord is entirely mistaken. This is mutual legal assistance between national legal regimes.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that this is one of a number of steps that will make it more difficult for people to forum-shop for the legal jurisdictions that best suit them?

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It is certainly the case that mutual legal assistance regularises the likelihood of trials taking place in the proper place.