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Making it easier for the police to seek evidence in other EU countries

The police would get better and faster support from their counterparts in other EU countries, for example when asking them to conduct house searches or interview witnesses, under a proposed European Investigation Order endorsed by the Civil Liberties Committee on Tuesday. The new rules would set deadlines for gathering the evidence requested and limit the grounds for refusing such requests.

“The European Investigation Order will provide us with better rules to investigate crimes in Europe and will contribute to the fight against corruption, drug trafficking and organised crime", said Parliament's rapporteur Nuno Melo (EPP, PT), after the committee approved his report with 47 votes in favour, 4 against and 2 abstentions.

The proposed rules aim to make it easier for the police to obtain evidence in another EU country when conducting criminal investigations. For example, if the French police are tracking criminals holed up in Germany, they could ask their German counterparts to carry out a home search or to interview witnesses there.

This is already possible, but investigators have to rely on a 50-year-old patchwork of rules, which in many cases lead to unjustified delays and administrative burdens. The European Investigation Order (EIO) would limit the grounds for refusing a request from the police in another Member State and set strict deadlines for seeking evidence. It would also reduce paperwork, by introducing a single standard form for requesting help to obtain all kinds of evidence.

Limited grounds for refusing an EIO

Under the proposed rules, an EIO would not be executed if it harmed national security interests or immunities or if the requested measure was not authorised by the law of the Member State whose police are asked to gather the evidence.

MEPs say that it should be possible to refuse an EIO if the measure requested were to breach a fundamental right or contradict a constitutional principle, if it were not validated by a judge in countries where this requirement exists or if it were to breach national rules limiting criminal liability relating to freedom of the press.

Stricter deadlines

A Member State would have up to 30 days to decide whether or not to accept an EIO request. If accepted, there would then be a 90-day deadline for gathering the evidence. Any delay should be reported to the EU country issuing the EIO. MEPs agreed with these deadlines as they should ensure that investigations of transnational crimes are not delayed without justification.

Higher data protection standards

The Civil Liberties Committee wishes to reinforce the data protection safeguards foreseen in the draft directive. Authentication systems should be created to ensure that only authorised bodies have access to databases containing personal data, say MEPs, adding that evidence gathered under the EIO should not be used for  purposes other than the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of crime, enforcement of criminal sanctions or the exercise of the right of defence.

Next steps

Tuesday's vote in the Civil Liberties Committee gives Mr Melo a mandate to start negotiations with the Council with a view to a first-reading agreement.

Further information
 
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  • Natalia DASILVA
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