Mutual legal assistance and extradition
Globalisation and Increasing mobility across the EU create new opportunities for cross-border crime. This is why mutual legal assistance and agreements on extradition are essential for the EU, in order to achieve a European area of justice.
Mutual legal assistance consists of cooperation between different countries for the purpose of gathering and exchanging information, and requesting and providing assistance in obtaining evidence located in one country to assist in criminal investigations or proceedings in another.
Extradition is the legal process by which an individual is transferred from one state to another for the purposes of facing trial or sentence.
Mechanisms have been put in place both in the EU and for cooperation with third countries to provide a framework for these exchanges.
A huge contribution to the evolution of international judicial cooperation in criminal matters comes from the Council of Europe Conventions.
Mechanisms at EU level
Legal and judicial systems vary from one EU country to another. This diversity creates a strong need to establish cooperation between the different countries' authorities.
Mutual legal assistance mechanisms are being progressively replaced by mutual recognition instruments. However, one agreement between EU countries is still in place: the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters from 2000 strengthens cooperation between judicial, police and customs authorities.
International judicial cooperation is aimed at ensuring cooperation between judicial authorities on various legal matters in different cross-border situations.
The dynamic and complex forces of globalisation have created a need for legal certainty and stability on a global scale: the increasing mobility of citizens within the EU has resulted in a growing number of 'international' situations where judicial cooperation in criminal matters is necessary.
EU action at internal level must therefore be complemented by cooperation with third countries and international organisations.
The EU has increasingly been perceived as an international partner in judicial cooperation matters. Agreements on extradition and mutual legal assistance have been concluded with the United States, Japan, Iceland and Norway.
After 9/11, the EU and the US took steps to improve cooperation on law enforcement and judicial cooperation.
In 2003, the first international agreements in the field of justice and home affairs were signed by the EU. After a complex ratification procedure, the two agreements finally entered into force on 1 February 2010.
The EU-US framework agreements will facilitate and expedite assistance between the EU and the United States. They set a common framework for cooperation and will co-exist with existing bilateral agreements between the US and individual EU countries.
Negotiated in record time given the imminent entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, the agreement between the EU and Japan on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters is the first 'self-standing' mutual legal assistance agreement between the EU and a third country.
Since there are no such agreements between Japan and individual EU countries, the agreement will bring significant added value to EU-Japan relations. It ensures respect for the fundamental values of the EU.
The agreement introduces modern cooperation tools including:
- the possibility to provide testimony via videoconference. This will significantly simplify the procedure of hearing a witness or an expert, eliminating long and expensive travel. In practice this will mean that an EU citizen who was the witness of a crime committed in Japan for instance, will no longer be required to travel to Japan to provide a testimony, but will be able to speak via videoconference from his or her home country;
- the exchange of bank information. Police authorities and prosecutors will now be able to receive promptly the necessary information. It will not be possible to refuse such assistance on the grounds of bank secrecy.