Bill aligning prosecutor data collection with EU law passes first reading

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Toompea castle, seat of the Riigikogu Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

A bill enacted which will require the prosecutor's office to obtain permission in communications data collection in criminal cases in which it is the prosecuting authority has passed its first Rigiikogu reading.

The bill follows a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling in connection with Estonia which stated that prior review of the conduct of a criminal investigating could not be held by the very body conducting the prosecution.

The bill was drawn up by the Riigikogu's legal affairs committee and will amend the criminal procedure code so that the prosecutor's office must apply for a permit in communications data collection requests.

Criteria which must be met include the gravity and nature of a crime being serious enough, in addition to taking into account what personal data protection rights might be imposed upon and whether collecting the data is an unavoidable necessity.

The ECJ ruling from March 2 found that a public prosecutor's office cannot by virtue of its role be considered an independent body in its authorization of communications data requests.

The case involved criminal proceedings on counts of theft, use of another person's bank card and violence against persons party to court proceedings and carried with it a custodial sentence of two years, upheld on appeal.

The defendant also lodged an appeal on a point of law with the Supreme Court in Estonia, and expressed doubts as to whether the conditions under which the investigating authority had access to the data in the case had been compatible with EU law

The ECJ found in particular that in the criminal field the requirement of independence entails that the authority entrusted with the prior review must not be involved in the conduct of the criminal investigation in question and also must have a neutral stance vis-à-vis the parties to the criminal proceedings.

That is not so in the case of a public prosecutor's office which directs the investigation procedure and brings it to public prosecution, as was the case in Estonia, the ECJ found. It follows that the public prosecutor's office is not in a position to carry out the prior review, the ECJ says.

The domestic bill will require a second and third reading before being sent to the president for assent, if it passes these readings.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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