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Europe agrees on exchange of criminal records

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The European Commission has adopted proposals to make it easier for police to check criminal records in other European countries.

The European Criminal Records Information System will set out the technical specifications so that police can get easy-to-use records from forces in other countries.

Jacques Barrot, commissioner for Justice Freedom and Security, said: "Information about previous conviction[s] shall circulate between judges and prosecutors as well as police authorities. This is essential in order to provide adequate responses to crime but also to prevent new crimes from being committed."

Criminal records will only be stored on national databases not on a European-wide megadatabase. The Commission aims to create interconnection software by the beginning of next year.

The information is needed in order for police to carry out effective criminal record checks for people working with children or other vulnerable groups. Courts need to the information so they can sentence people on the basis of all their past convictions.

How much difference it will make in practice is open to question.

The British government has failed on several occasions to deal with the criminal records it does receive from police forces across Europe. In January last year it emerged that 500 people convicted of serious offences across Europe had not had their UK criminal records updated. The files got as far as the Home Office but were not entered onto the Police National Computer. Last month the Crown Prosecution Service apologised for losing a disc containing DNA profiles from over 2,000 crime scenes in the Netherlands.

The idea has been making progress in Brussels for some time, although previous initiatives under the Treaty of Prum were criticised by European data protection bodies.

Data protection groups are currently considering the latest proposals.®

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