Judicial authorities asking their colleagues in another EU country to carry out criminal investigations there, e.g. by searching houses or interviewing witnesses, should get a faster and more favourable response thanks to a Parliament/Council deal endorsed by the Civil Liberties Committee on Thursday. The agreement on the European Investigation Order (EIO) directive also includes provisions to ensure that fundamental rights are fully respected.
"This instrument will allow effective prosecution of crime, in particular, cross-border crime, for instance related to terrorism, murder, drug trafficking, and corruption. It will also guarantee respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms", said Parliament's rapporteur Nuno Melo (EPP, PT).
The European Investigation Order (EIO) aims to make it easier for judicial authorities to request investigative measures and thereby obtain evidence in another EU country. For example, French judicial authorities tracking criminals holed up in Germany could ask their German counterparts to carry out a house search or to interview witnesses there.
This is already possible, but investigators have to rely on a patchwork of rules, some more than 50 years old, which in many cases lead to unjustified delays and additional burdens. The EIO will also reduce paperwork, by introducing a single standard form for requesting help to carry out all kinds of investigative measures and obtain evidence.
Limited grounds for refusing an EIO
Under the new rules, an EIO request could be refused only on specific grounds, for instance, if it could harm essential national security interests or if the measure requested is not authorised by the law of the member state concerned.
An EIO request could also be refused if existing rules on limitation of criminal liability relating to freedom of the press would make it impossible to execute it.
Fundamental rights check
MEPs also inserted provisions to ensure that fundamental rights are fully respected. Member states’ judicial authorities may refuse an EIO request if they believe it would be incompatible with their fundamental rights obligations. This is the first time that such an explicit provision has been inserted in a mutual recognition instrument for criminal law.
Member states 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 conducting the requested investigative measure. Any delay should be reported to the EU country issuing the EIO. These deadlines aim to ensure that cross-border crime investigations are not delayed without justification.
The text should be voted by the full House at the start of next year and formally approved by the Council of Ministers shortly thereafter. Once the directive is approved, member states will have three years to transpose it into their national laws. The UK will take part in the EIO arrangements, but Ireland and Denmark will not.
Result of the vote: 42 votes in favour, 1 against
In the chair: Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES)
Rapporteur: Nuno Melo (EPP, PT)