What are the major challenges for international cooperation on justice between the European Union and Latin America today?
International cooperation, in particular judicial cooperation and police cooperation, is one of the fundamental pillars of the fight against organised and transnational crime.
As we all know, crime knows no borders. To commit a crime these days, hitting a computer key is all it takes and its effects will be felt far away, in another country, even on the other side of the world.
The internet and new information and communication technologies have placed states in new situations, whether it be in terms of bilateral or multilateral cooperation.
Criminal investigation cannot stop at state borders. If it does, the reaction of the entire criminal justice chain – investigation, prosecution, trial, conviction, serving the sentence – becomes ineffective.
I believe, therefore, that one of the great challenges facing international cooperation is, from the outset, the need to simplify and speed up procedures and bring modern criminal justice systems closer together, while respecting fundamental rights, in permitting the exchange of information, coordination between the competent national authorities and the direct processing of requests, and strengthening the role of the national central authorities and the use of electronic means of communication. Here, I would highlight all the activity aimed at obtaining, preserving, recognising and using evidence, especially electronic evidence, obtained in a state other than the one in which the crime was committed.
Traditional, slow, bureaucratic judicial cooperation, which relied on diplomatic channels for processing requests, is no longer useful in a globalised world. We cannot fight 21st century global crime using 19th century means.
Ensuring the use of direct channels and electronic means valuable time is saved in getting a response from judicial institutions, and also contributes to strengthening mutual trust between the judicial authorities of the countries involved.
Creating and consolidating regional spaces for cooperation and justice is essential for making cooperation work between states at a global level. Using these methods to face up to the serious problems that are common to the Latin America and the European Union in the fight against serious crime is the great challenge that we have at hand so that our citizens can feel free and safe, in their lives and their rights.
What can the justice sector do to respond to the COVID-19 crisis? What strategies can and should be pursued?
The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it an increase in some forms of criminality, especially among organised groups linked to the counterfeiting and distribution of individual protective pharmaceutical products, such as masks and alcoholic gel.
The confinement imposed by the state of emergency had an inevitable impact on the functioning of the courts, the legal services and criminal investigation. In order to respond to this situation, contingency plans were approved by all bodies and services at the Ministry of Justice, in an attempt, on the one hand, to safeguard the health of their workers and, on the other, to minimise the effects on the public and other law enforcement professionals.
In addition, services have been provided using electronic means, whenever these services do not require the physical presence of people, along with a concern for not leaving anyone behind in their right of access to justice, especially the most needy and those who did not have the means to access or use the internet.
The National Support Network for Victims of Domestic Violence was strengthened and preventive measures were adopted to protect the health of the prison population. In the courts, in proceedings that require the physical presence of the parties, their representatives or other involved parties, hearings are held remotely. When they cannot be conducted remotely, proceedings do take place in person, provided that it observing the maximum number of people and the other safety rules defined by the Directorate-General for Health is possible.
Within the context of the European Union, the European Justice Portal has provided an overview of the measures taken to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic that affect the judicial system, national authorities and legal professionals, as well as businesses and the public. The COMJIB itself now has information on its website provided by its members on the justice measures taken.
This means that work has already been done nationally in each country, in Europe and in Ibero-America, about the response from justice systems to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this work does not end here, and the discussion needs to continue, within the framework of EL PAcCTO, regarding specific, joint measures or recommendations for some sectors, namely the prison administration system, to avoid the spread of the virus and to guarantee respect for human rights.
What positive experiments implemented by the Portuguese Ministry of Justice do you think it would be interesting to share with our colleagues from Latin American justice institutions?
The modernisation of justice is an area which I am personally committed to.
Since 2015, the Ministry of Justice has been investing heavily in the modernisation of the justice system, with the introduction of new procedures and technologies and the implementation of administrative and legislative measures, so as to bring justice closer to the public and, in this way, contribute to strengthening the democratic rule of law and citizenship.
Among other initiatives, I would like to mention the Justice + Closer Action Plan, the aim of which is to contribute to the development of an agile, transparent, humane justice system that is closer to the public. Agile, by simplifying the processes and procedures and adopting methodologies and technological tools that will bring greater efficiency. Transparent, by committing to constantly providing information and data of importance to the different agents in the sector, and human for the public, by responding to the real needs of different target audiences. And closer to the public by placing its relationship with them at the centre of its activities, by simplifying and clarifying the language used and the information provided, offering new and varied services and ensuring that it is multichannel.
Although it is currently at the public consultation stage, I would also like to mention the approval of the 2020-2024 National Strategy for Combating Corruption, which is the first instrument approved in Portugal in this field. Also, by involving both the public sector and the private sector, we hope that it will contribute to increasing transparency, guaranteeing equal treatment for all citizens and strengthening democracy and the rule of law.
In what specific areas should coordination between European and Latin American justice institutions be increased?
It should be noted that a high level of cooperation has already been achieved between the institutions of justice in Europe and Latin America. One example of this is the cooperation developed within the context of COMJIB and the Ibero-American Judicial Cooperation Network (IBERed), the Ibero-American Association of Public Prosecutors and the Ibero-American Judicial Summit. Or, if we want, on a broader level, the cooperation existing between some Latin American countries and EUROJUST and EUROPOL.
Coordination has also been fostered, as has happened with the EUROSOCIAL Programme and this EL PAcCTO Programme. Coordination should not only be fostered, but also desirable, in order to create synergies between all the players involved and to make better use of the available human and financial resources.
I believe, therefore, that holding meetings like the “Meeting of Justice Institutions in Latin America and the European Union”, held recently by EL PAcCTO, when they are held with some frequency, are an appropriate way to strengthen this coordination.
The areas in which coordination can be strengthened could be the modernisation of the justice system, human rights, the fight against transnational organised crime and money laundering, prison administration and the protection of victims of crime, in its many aspects. These, I believe, are the areas that still need to be reinforced.
In what sense and on what matters should cooperation on justice between the European Union and Latin America advance in the fight against organised crime?
Although I am aware of the difficulties that may exist in Latin America, cooperation on justice should move towards accepting the principle of mutual recognition of judicial decisions, as is the case today in the European Union, the positive results of which are well known.
I am well aware that this is a difficult, time-consuming path that depends on commitments of various kinds, including political ones. But it is a vital path if we want to move towards a justice system that has mechanisms at its disposal that will speed up procedures and provide effective results. Take the case of the European Arrest Warrant, which put an end to the classic institution of extradition. It allows people to be handed over from one state to another in a short period of time, without the dual criminality check mechanism for more serious offences.
As I already said, organised crime knows no borders and it increasingly uses the internet and new technologies and methods to make the proceeds from its activities disappear or to legitimise them through the financial system or through some activities and non-financial professions, by using virtual assets or cryptocurrencies.
That is why cooperation in the field of justice should move decisively on matters such as cybercrime, including electronic evidence, money laundering through trade and new methods of payment, which is also linked to crimes against the environment, such as illegal mining and illegal logging, as well as trafficking in protected species of fauna and flora, which are so common in the Latin American region.
How do you rate EL PAcCTO’s work in strengthening justice institutions in the European Union and Latin America?
The EL PAcCTO Programme has made a valuable contribution to strengthening justice institutions and increasing cooperation between the EU and Latin America, both in terms of judicial and police cooperation, and also in terms of prison administration. Not only has it brought the legislative developments achieved in our States and in the European Union to this region, but also operational development, and it has contributed to the reform of the prison systems by improving the training of those involved, improving the conditions of prisoners and guaranteeing the observance of human rights.
We knew that this Programme was an initiative that had all the conditions for achieving the objectives set, either because of the Member States involved and the expertise existing in each of them or because of the historical ties that unite us with Latin America. That is why we supported its creation from the very beginning and expressed our desire to join it.
Minister Of Justice, Francisca Van Dunem.