Mutual legal assistance refers to assistance given by one State to another with the administration of justice in the second State.  Such assistance is given in the Member State’s own jurisdiction and can include the investigation of crime, service of documents or confiscation of proceeds of crime. 

The Department of Justice recently published the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) (Amendment) Bill 2014 (the “Bill”) which will update the law in this area and give effect to a number of international treaties. The Bill amends the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance Act) 2008 (the “Primary Act”).  

The Primary Act provides for international cooperation on evidence gathering for the purposes of criminal investigations and proceedings. The purpose of the Bill, however, is primarily to give effect to a number of international instruments which have been ratified by the Oireachtas, which provide for mutual legal assistance with other EU Member States.  

The Bill, when enacted, will promote greater cooperation in the recovery of cross-border fines and penalties.  Fines and confiscation orders imposed by Irish courts against citizens of other Member States will be automatically recognised and enforceable in that Member State.  Fines imposed by courts competent in criminal matters in non-Member States against Irish citizens will be similarly recognised and enforceable by way of an application to the High Court for a “confiscation cooperation order.” 

The Bill also provides for enhanced cooperation between Member States in dealing with crisis situations that present a serious and direct physical threat, such as terrorist incidents.  Increased powers are provided to Eurojust, the EU agency established to improve cooperation between Member States in coordinating investigations and prosecutions, particularly by facilitating international mutual legal assistance and the implementation of extradition requests. The Bill also gives effect to a Council of the European Union decision which seeks to provide clear and common grounds for the non-recognition of decisions rendered following a trial at which the person concerned did not appear in person.  

While the Bill remains at an early stage of the parliamentary process, it is expected to be enacted early next year.  In introducing the Bill to the Seanad on 18 August 2014, Minister Fitzgerald stated:

“Crime does not recognise international borders. I expect that this Bill will be particularly useful in targeting cross-border offenders who commit offences and in confiscating proceeds of crime.”