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Brussels, 30 November 2009

Final steps for the first agreement on judicial cooperation in criminal matters between the European Union and Japan

The Mutual Legal Assistance Agreement on judicial cooperation in criminal matters about to be settled between the EU and Japan is the first "self-standing" EU – third country MLA Agreement,. This agreement is meant to bring significant added value in the EU relations with Japan. It will contribute to combating crime, while respecting justice, principles of the rule of law and democracy, as well as judicial independence. Cooperation tools will be more effective and delays and costs should be significantly reduced.

" The final Agreement is a balanced text, which contains some modern provisions and thus brings added value to the current situation, while at the same time ensuring respect for the fundamental values of the European Union - said Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the European Commission – Judicial cooperation in criminal matters between the EU and Japan is to be fostered by this agreement".

According to the provisions of the Agreement, Legal Assistance between Japan and the Member States of the European Union can become more effective. Such cooperation can contribute to combating crime, while respecting justice, principles of the rule of law and democracy, and judicial independence. At the moment, no State Member of the European Union has an agreement with Japan on judicial cooperation in criminal matters; the MLA Agreements represents a common framework for judicial authorities of the EU Member States: they are entitled to cooperate with Japanese authorities on the basis of some common and modern provisions. New modern cooperation tools in the EU-Japan Mutual Legal Assistance Agreement include for example rules on providing testimony via videoconference, which would significantly simplify the procedure of hearing a witness or an expert. This new possibility would eliminate long and expensive travels. In practice this means that an EU citizen, who was a witness to a crime committed in Japan, could be able to speak via videoconference from his hometown.

Another important tool regards the exchange of bank information. Police authorities and prosecutors would be able to receive promptly the necessary information. It would not be possible to refuse this assistance on the grounds of bank secrecy.

In general, a common legal basis for the exchange of data, information, documents and the temporary transfer of persons is grounded in solid principles.

The negotiations were particularly complex, also because of the strict deadline. The Commission appreciated the effort of all the Member States that lifted their Parliamentary reservations on time. Japan and EU showed a high degree of flexibility on various key issues and major concessions were made by both sides.

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