Enhancing Legal Co-operation Within the Commonwealth: Proposal for the Establishment of the Commonwealth Network of Contact Persons

AuthorCommonwealth Secretariat

Page 195

  1. Senior Officials of Commonwealth Law Ministries in their meeting on 18 October 2004 considered the possibility of setting up a Commonwealth Network of Contact Persons (CNCP), including Prosecutors and Competent Authorities, for effective co-operation in criminal matters amongst the members of the Commonwealth. This idea has been taken forward by Paul Wilkins, a Crown Advocate from Guernsey. The purpose of this paper is to outline how a CNCP could work in practice.

  2. It is granted that to ensure an effective system of international co-operation in criminal matters, it is essential that there is proper communication between countries. In spite of having proper legislative frameworks, quite often members are not able to effectively co-operate with each other because of lack of information about the legislative and procedural requirements in other countries. This is further inhibited because of the absence of central authorities in many countries or ignorance about the existence of such authorities. In order to get over these difficulties some countries have set up networks of contact persons to enhance co-operation amongst countries in their region by closer and direct interaction with each other. A good example to consider in this regard is the European Judicial Network (EJN) that has been put in place in the European Union to enhance mutual assistance in that region. Following the success of the EJN, similar networks have been set up in South America and between the Portuguese speaking jurisdictions in the world.

Background of other networks
European Judicial Network
  1. The EJN was created by way of a Joint Action on 29 June 1998. Article 2 of the Joint Action provides for the appointment of one or more contact points from each Member State. The number of contact points varies greatly between members. For example, in the Republic of Ireland there are three contact points - two based at the Ministry of Justice in Dublin and one at the Garda Police Headquarters. In the United Kingdom and the Crown Dependencies, there are contact points at the United Kingdom Central Authority at the Home Office, Crown Prosecution Service, Serious Fraud Office, HM Customs and Excise, Metropolitan Police, the Crown Office in Edinburgh, the office of the Director of Prosecutions in Northern Ireland and one contact each for the Crown Dependencies of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man.

  2. France has 49 contact points and Italy has 58 because their legal systems require contact points for each of the major court centres. However, assistance as to which contact point should receive a Letter of Request for Mutual Legal Assistance can be obtained from the respective Ministries of Justice of these countries.

  3. The functions of contact points of the EJN are primarily to facilitate "judicial co-operation between member states, particularly in action to combat forms of serious crime." Additionally, the EJN indicates that "they shall be available to enable local judicial authorities and other competentPage 196 authorities in their own country and to contact points and judicial and other competent authorities in other countries to establish the most appropriate direct contact."

  4. The EJN contact points under Article 4 of their establishment "provide the legal and practical information necessary to the local judicial authorities in their own country, to the contact points and judicial authorities in other countries to enable them to prepare an effective request for judicial co-operation or to improve judicial co-operation in general."

  5. The purpose of meetings of the Network is to allow the contact points to get to know each other and exchange experiences, particularly concerning the operation of the Network. Additionally, they "provide a forum for discussion of practical and legal problems encountered by the member states in the context of judicial co-operation, particularly with regard to the implementation of measures adopted by the European Union. Obligations of information sharing regarding possible legislative changes for improving international judicial co-operation are also a feature of the EJN.

  6. In each of the 25 countries that make up the European Union there are a number of contact persons who are responsible for giving advice firstly, to their colleagues as to how to make requests for evidence to other jurisdictions and secondly, to contact persons in other jurisdictions. There are also contact persons in the Crown Dependencies of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man.

  7. In practice, the Network meets for a day every year in Brussels, either in February or March and they discuss, inter alia, proposals for EU legislation that may affect the Network. Each year there are two other meetings of the contact persons. These meetings are held in the country holding the presidency of the EU at the time. These gatherings allow contact persons to learn about developments in mutual legal assistance and provide an opportunity to gain knowledge of the legal systems in other states. More importantly, it provides a good platform for the contact persons to get to know each other.

  8. Before the establishment of the EJN and the appointment of the contact points, there were many instances when requests for assistance were not made due to ignorance of the mutual legal assistance scheme in another jurisdiction or lack of knowledge about the person to be contacted.

  9. Article 8 of the Joint Action requires that each of the contact points must have full details of their colleagues in other member states, access to a simplified list of the judicial authorities and a directory of local authorities in each member state. In addition, there is a requirement that information...

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