By Ladislav Hamran, President of Eurojust.
A fellow prosecutor recently reminded me of what it was like to send out a request for judicial cooperation to another European country some twenty years ago. “I felt a bit like Robinson Crusoe”, he said. “It seemed like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the sea, not knowing where it would end up and when. Luckily we now have Eurojust.” To me, this perfectly illustrates the incredible progress we have made in the field of judicial cooperation since then.
When I started working as a prosecutor over two decades ago, crime was much more confined within national borders than it is today. As a consequence, so were prosecutors and judges. Whenever there was a need to work together, we had to rely on lengthy, often unpredictable diplomatic channels. We stayed within our own borders, followed our own legal procedures and faced many challenges in the exchange of information and evidence. In an increasingly globalised world, we knew that something had to change. Organised crime and terrorism started to rapidly expand across borders and the need for better cooperation between EU Member States became ever more apparent.
It was with great foresight that the European Council decided to step up judicial cooperation and create Eurojust back in 1999. The EU Heads of State and Government clearly understood that providing a safe and secure environment to live, work and trade together is one of the core tasks of the European Union. Moreover, they understood that cross-border cooperation between judges and prosecutors was going to be a crucial factor in holding criminals accountable for their acts and giving victims of crime the justice that they deserve.
The role of Eurojust is to facilitate this cooperation. We share our unique expertise with national authorities through legal advice and analytical support. We assist with the execution of European Arrest Warrants (EAWs) and European Investigation Orders (EIOs). We set up coordination meetings, allowing prosecutors from different countries to meet in person and agree on the most effective prosecution strategy. We organise coordination centres, enabling the execution of arrests, searches and seizures in several countries at the same time during joint action days. Furthermore, we provide legal, practical and financial support to Joint Investigation Teams in major cross-border cases.
At Eurojust’s premises in The Hague, you will find prosecutors from 27 EU Member States and 8 third countries working together under one roof. In many of our cases, they join forces with Eurojust Contact Points located in 52 countries all over the world. Each of these legal professionals comes from a different national jurisdiction, with its own legal system, customs, traditions and practices. So how do we manage to bridge the gap between so many different jurisdictions? How do we make judicial cooperation work in this highly complex playing field?
Whenever I am asked about the secret of our success, I limit my answer to one simple word: trust. Trust means making the conscious decision to work together despite of our differences. It means respecting each other’s sovereignty and being open to compromise. It means acknowledging that we may have different ways of working, but all share the same ambition of protecting our citizens and making this world a safer place.
At the same time, establishing trust cannot be done overnight. It is a delicate process that requires tact and, above all, diplomacy. In fact, one can easily argue that 50% of our work at Eurojust is based on our legal expertise and the other 50% on judicial diplomacy. Our support may take the shape of a highly detailed legal analysis, but can equally be as practical as providing translation by specialised interpreters to make sure that prosecutors and judges can communicate freely with each other. It is therefore only fitting that Eurojust is located in the City of Peace and Justice, where we have created the right environment to foster dialogue and remove practical barriers to cooperation.
I am convinced that the careful cultivation of trust through judicial diplomacy is at the root of the major progress we have seen in the field of judicial cooperation in the past two decades. Because of the increased trust between countries, the efforts to fight cross-border organised crime and terrorism have moved from individual to joint, from isolated to coordinated, and from local to regional or even global.
In parallel with this increase in trust, we witness a continuous growth of Eurojust’s casework. In 2019 alone, we dealt with more than 8 000 cases – a 17% increase compared to the year before. These are not just numbers, because each case has a direct impact on the safety of our citizens. Making it concrete: in one years’ time, Eurojust’s support contributed to the arrests of nearly 2700 suspects, the seizure or freezing of €2 billion in criminal assets and the end of drug trades worth €2.7 billion.
It is fair to conclude that what we do at Eurojust works. The level of judicial cooperation we have achieved in the EU is unprecedented and we regularly receive prosecutors and judges from all over the world who want to learn from our experience. I sincerely hope that our model will form a blueprint for similar cooperation in other continents, making it easier for judicial authorities to join forces at a global level.
While I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved so far, I am also acutely aware of the many challenges still ahead of us. Digitalisation, for instance, is profoundly affecting the criminal justice field. On a global level, cybercrime is the most rapidly expanding form of organised crime. Becoming a victim of cybercrime is no longer a remote risk and geopolitical tensions may well have repercussions for our virtual security. But digitalisation is not just a catalyst of cross-border crime, it is also part of the solution. The coming year will be decisive for Eurojust’s Digital Criminal Justice initiative, with which we aim to give prosecutors across the EU the modern digital tools they need to work together even better.
Further globalisation is equally inevitable. It will not only lead to an increasing interconnectedness in the political, economic and cultural domain, but also have a significant impact on how easily criminals join forces and what we can do to stop them. Eurojust will continue to bring together prosecutors and judges from all over the world. Our goal is to carefully cultivate trust amongst them, with full respect for each other’s national jurisdictions and legal traditions. Judicial diplomacy plays a key role in this process, and I consider it an absolute privilege to be working closely together with the diplomatic community in The Hague.
By promoting the work of Eurojust and connecting us to the judicial authorities in their home countries, our colleagues from the embassies and international organisations are making a vital contribution to ensuring that justice is done. I can only hope to continue this excellent cooperation in the future.