The End of the Transitional Period for Police and Criminal Justice Measures Adopted before the Lisbon Treaty. Who Monitors Trust in the European Justice Area?

 Abstract of a study submitted to the European Parliament Civil Liberties Committee. (LIBE) THE FULL TEXT IS AVAILABLE HERE

Authors:                                                                                                                            Prof. Valsamis Mitsilegas, Head of Department of Law and Professor of European  Criminal Law, Queen Mary, University of London                                                                  Dr Sergio Carrera, Senior Research Fellow and Head of Justice and Home Affairs           Section, Centre for European Policy Studies, CEPS                                                                Dr Katharina Eisele, Researcher, CEPS

This Study examines the legal and political implications of the forthcoming end of the transitional period, enshrined in Protocol 36 to the EU Treaties, applicable to legislative measures dealing with police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters and adopted before the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. The analysis focuses on the meaning of the transitional period for the wider nature and fundamentals of the European Criminal Justice area and its interplay in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (AFSJ). Particular attention is paid to its multifaceted consequences of ‘Lisbonisation’ as regards supranational legislative oversight and judicial scrutiny, not least by the European Parliament in this context, as well as its relevance at times of rethinking the relationship between the principle of mutual recognition of judicial decisions and the fundamental rights of the defence in criminal matters in the AFSJ.

Legal Framework of the Transition

The transitional provisions envisaged in Protocol 36 have limited some of the most far-reaching innovations introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon over EU cooperation in justice and home affairs (JHA) for a period of five years (1 December 2009 to 1 December 2014). Such limits include restrictions on the enforcement powers of the European Commission and of the judicial scrutiny of the Court of Justice of the European Union over legislative measures adopted in these fields before the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty under the old EU Third Pillar (Title VI of the former version of the Treaty on the European Union). Moreover, Protocol 36 provides for special ‘opt-out/opt-in’ possibilities for the UK. The scope and rules set out in Protocol 36 are of a highly complex and technical nature. The end of the transitional period enshrined in Protocol 36 reveals a complex conglomerate of legal provisions and procedures primarily designed for meeting the interest of some Member States’ governments to limit EU scrutiny, supervision and enforcement powers over national implementation and compliance with European law on police and criminal justice cooperation. This is a critical juncture because the transitional provisions of Protocol 36 come to a formal end on 1 December 2014.

Findings and Challenges

The main legal and political challenges related to the transitional provisions of Protocol 36 are multifaceted. The forthcoming end of the transitional period will only partially address the diverse legal landscape of fundamental rights protection in Europe’s area of criminal justice. The Study argues that the non-participation of the UK in EU legal instruments dealing with suspects’ rights in criminal proceedings undermines severely the effective operability of pre-Lisbon Treaty instruments driven by the mutual recognition principle, such as the European Arrest Warrant, even if from a ‘black letter’ law perspective the UK is entitled to ‘pick and choose’. In addition, the complex legal setting has contributed to creating legal uncertainty and lack of transparency characterising EU criminal justice instruments and their common applicability and implementation across the EU. The ambivalent position of the UK opens up the emergence of different and even competing areas of justice as well as dispersed levels of Europeanisation where enforcement of the principle of mutual recognition and protection of suspect rights are variable and anachronistic across the Union.

That notwithstanding, the Study argues that one of the most far-reaching consequences of the end of the transitional period will be the shifting of supervision on compliance and faithful implementation of EU law on police and criminal justice from domestic authorities in the Member States to EU institutional instances. The end of the transition will most significantly mean the liberalisation of ‘who monitors trust in the AFSJ’. This shift will for the first time ensure transnational legal, judicial and democratic accountability of Member States’ laws and practices implementing EU law in these contested areas, in particular the extent to which EU legislation is timely and duly observed by national authorities.

Protocol 36 does not foresee a formal role for the European Parliament in the decisions involved in the transition. Yet, the Parliament does have responsibility for the partly highly sensitive content of the Third Pillar measures directly affecting the citizens’ rights and freedoms and as co-legislator in post-Lisbon Treaty laws in these same domains. The lack of an effective and independent evaluation mechanism of EU criminal justice instruments based on the principle of mutual recognition poses a major challenge to legal and democratic accountability.

Protocol 36 has primarily aimed at limiting the degree of supranational (EU) legal, judicial and democratic scrutiny concerning EU Member States’ obligations in the EU Area of Justice. The legal patchwork of UK participation in pre- and post-Treaty of Lisbon criminal justice acquis indeed sends a critical signal of incoherency in the current delineation of the European Criminal Justice Area. The Study argues that the varied landscape resulting from the selective participation of the UK in EU criminal law measures poses significant challenges for legal certainty, the protection of fundamental rights in Europe’s area of criminal justice and the overall coherence of EU law.

Article 82(2) TFEU grants express EU competence to legislate on rights of the defence in criminal procedures where necessary to facilitate the operation of the principle of mutual recognition in criminal matters. The legality of post-Lisbon legislation on defence rights is thus inextricably linked with the effective operation of mutual recognition in criminal matters, including of the Framework Decision on the European Arrest Warrant. This is supported by pertinent case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which ruled against previous UK requests to participate in the Visa Information System, or the Frontex and biometrics regulations on the basis of a teleological and contextual approach focusing on the coherence of EU law.

The Study argues that defence rights should not be negotiable at the expense of citizens’ and residents’ rights and freedoms. There is a direct causal link under EU primary law between the adoption of EU defence rights measures and the effective operation of mutual recognition enforcement instruments. Differing levels of EU Member State commitment to and participation in the fundamental rights of individuals in criminal proceedings run counter to a teleological approach which respects fully the objectives and the integrated nature of the AFSJ.

Recommendations

  • Increasing Coherency and Practical Operability: Suspects Rights as Sine qua non

The transition envisaged in Protocol 36 may well lead to incoherency and practical inoperability of the European Criminal Justice Area. The European Parliament as co-legislator in EU criminal justice law has an active role to play at times of ensuring that a common understanding of ‘ensuring coherency’ and ‘practical operability’ of the EU AFSJ is firmly anchored on strong defence rights and fair trial protection (rights of suspected or accused persons) and a sound rule of law-compliant (on-the­ground) implementation across the domestic justice arenas of EU Member States.

  • Promoting Consolidation and Codification — Better Linking of Mutual Recognition and Rights of Suspects in Criminal Proceedings

The European Parliament should give priority at times of implementing previous inter-institutional calls for consolidation and even codification of existing EU rules and instruments dealing with judicial cooperation in criminal matters. The new LIBE Committee should follow up the calls outlined in the European Parliament Report with recommendations to the Commission on the review of the European Arrest Warrant (2013/2109(INL). This should go along with the full accomplishment of the EU Roadmap of suspects’ rights in criminal proceedings as well as the procedural rights package.

  • Implementation and Evaluation — A Stronger Democratic Accountability

The European Parliament should give particular priority to better ensuring Member States’ timely and effective implementation of pre- and post-Lisbon Treaty European criminal law. An effective and independent evaluation mechanism should be developed following the template provided by the new 2013 Schengen Evaluation Mechanism, in which the European Parliament has played a role in the decision-making and implementation. This template should be followed at times of implementing any future system for criminal justice cooperation.

The Study starts by situating the discussion and briefly explaining the material scope and particulars featuring the transitional period in Protocol 36 in Section 2. Section 3 then moves into locating the debate in the specific context of the UK, and outlining its casuistic or privileged position in respect of the expansion of `supranationalism’ over EU police and criminal justice cooperation. Section 4 identifies a number of cross-cutting dilemmas and challenges affecting the transitional period, in particular those related to the impact of activating the Commission and Luxembourg Court’s legal and judicial scrutiny powers, questions of incoherencies due to UK’s variable participation and the obstacles to practical operability. Section 5 lays down three potential scenarios for the way forward in what concerns issues of fragmentation and coherence, reforming old EU Third Pillar law and the EAW while ensuring their added value, and questions related to implementation, consolidation and codification of EU criminal law. Section 6 offers some conclusions and puts forward a set of policy suggestions to the European Parliament and its LIBE Committee.

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