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New tool to simplify cross-border criminal investigations in the EU

Added 5/22/2017
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European Commission - Press release 22. 5. 2017; Picture: European Commission
Today, the "European Investigation Order" enters into force. It simplifies the work of judicial authorities when they request evidence located in another EU country. For instance, if French judicial authorities are tracking terrorists hidden in Belgium, they can ask their Belgian counterparts to interrogate witnesses or conduct house searches on their behalf. This new tool will simplify and speed up cross-border criminal investigations.

The European Investigation Order will bring the following advantages:

  • It creates a single comprehensive instrument with a large scope – It will replace the existing fragmented legal framework for obtaining evidence. It will cover the whole process of collecting evidence, from the freezing of evidence to the transfer of existing evidence, for Member States participating.
  • It sets strict deadlines for gathering the evidence requested - Member States have up to 30 days to decide if they accept a request. If accepted, there is a 90-day deadline to conduct the requested investigative measure. Any delay will be reported to the EU country issuing the investigation order.
  • It limits the reasons for refusing such requests – The receiving authority can only refuse to execute the order under certain circumstances, e.g. if the request is against the country's fundamental principles of law or harms national security interests.
  • It reduces paperwork by introducing a single standard form translated into the official language of the executing State for authorities to request help when seeking evidence.
  • It protects the fundamental rights of the defence – The issuing authorities must assess the necessity and proportionality of the investigative measure requested. A European Investigation Order has to be issued or validated by a judicial authority, and the issuing of an order may be requested by a suspected or accused person, or by a lawyer on his/her behalf in line with the defence rights and with national criminal procedures. Member States must ensure legal remedies equivalent to those available in a similar domestic case and ensure that persons concerned are properly informed of these possibilities.

In particular, the European Investigation Order allows for:

  • temporary transfer of persons in custody in order to gather evidence;
  • checks on the bank accounts and financial operations of suspected or accused persons;
  • covert investigations and intercepting telecommunications;
  • measures to preserve evidence.

Traditional investigation tools are not always adapted to the digital world we live in. Judicial authorities need ways to access evidence in the cloud and located in another or somewhere else in the world. The Commission is currently working on solutions to equip judicial authorities with modern investigation tools to simplify their access to e-evidence.