European Scrutiny Committee

No. 19
Session 2002-03

Embargo: 11 am on Thursday 3 July 2003

Criminal justice must remain a matter for national parliaments, says European Scrutiny Committee

The Committee today publishes a report on The Convention's proposals on criminal justice , examining parts of the draft EU constitution prepared by the Convention under Giscard d'Estaing. The report criticises proposals which would transfer substantial power from national parliaments to the European Parliament.

The draft constitution proposes greater use of qualified majority voting (QMV) in this area, which raises particular concerns because the system of criminal justice relates so closely to the identity of the State, and in the UK to the separate identities of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Committee's Chairman, Jimmy Hood, said: 

"Criminal justice is a matter which identifies the state, or in the case of the UK, parts of the state. A degree of public ownership is essential if it is to work properly. The only forum which can deliver this is the national parliament. Any system which allows Member States to be outvoted in this area would not have democratic legitimacy. Harmonisation of criminal law and procedure should therefore proceed either by unanimity or not at all." 

The Committee concludes:

  • QMV and the legislative process involving 'co-decision' by Council and European Parliament should be confined to aspects which do not affect fundamental issues of sovereignty; otherwise unanimity should continue to be required, in order to secure legitimacy and public acceptance.

  • Harmonisation of criminal procedure should be limited to what is needed to secure mutual recognition of judgments and decisions: QMV and co-decision should not be used in this area, and especially not for rules on admissibility of evidence, since such rules are so closely connected with each country's mode of trial.

  • The scope of criminal liability within a State is primarily a matter for each national parliament; harmonisation of substantive criminal law should therefore proceed only where there is unanimity.

  • The jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice should not be extended to police and law enforcement operations, or to the maintenance by Member States of law and order and internal security.

  • The proposal for a European Public Prosecutor to prosecute in cases of serious crimes and crimes against the EU's financial interests is impractical and raises problems of democratic accountability; also, since the Prosecutor could shop around for the Court most likely to convict, it could give rise to an engine of oppression.

  • The role of national parliaments should be increased in areas such as defining the guidelines and priorities for European criminal justice policy, ensuring the principle of subsidiarity is observed, scrutinising Europol and overseeing the evaluation of EU policies in this area.

The summary of the report can be found here.

The list of conclusions and recommendations of the report can be found here.

For further information telephone: 0207 219 3292

Notes for Editors

The main purpose of the European Scrutiny Committee is to report to the House on the legal and political importance of each EU document and to determine which EU documents are debated. Such debates take place either in a European Standing Committee or on the Floor of the House. The Committee normally reports weekly on a range of documents when the House is sitting.  Under the House's scrutiny reserve resolution, Ministers should not agree to EU proposals until the Committee has completed its consideration of them, or any debate it has recommended has taken place.  The Committee also monitors business in the Council of Ministers, especially the activities of UK Ministers in the Council, and produces occasional reports on wider EU developments.

The Committee has 16 Members, as follows:

Jimmy Hood MP (Chairman) - Labour - Clydesdale
Richard Bacon MP - Conservative - South Norfolk
Colin Breed MP - Lib Dem - Cornwall South East
William Cash MP - Conservative - Stone
Michael Connarty MP - Labour - Falkirk East
Tony Cunningham MP - Labour - Workington
Wayne David MP - Labour - Caerphilly
Terry Davis MP - Labour - Birmingham Hodge Hill
Jim Dobbin MP - Labour/Co-op - Heywood & Middleton
Mark Hendrick MP - Labour - Preston
Jim Marshall MP - Labour - Leicester South
Anne McIntosh MP - Conservative - Vale of York
Angus Robertson MP - SNP - Moray
John Robertson MP - Labour - Glasgow Anniesland
Anthony Steen MP - Conservative - Totnes
Bill Tynan MP - Labour - Hamilton South

The text of all Committee publications, including Press Notices and Reports, can be found on the Committee's website:                                                                

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