Criminals identified as members or associates of such bodies as the Mafia, the Triads or the Colombian drugs cartels could be held and deported or charged with membership of a proscribed organisation. At present, police cannot arrest anyone unless they have specific evidence of a criminal act.
The proposed legislation is similar in principle to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which allows police to hold and exclude suspected members of the IRA and other Irish terrorist groups.
Membership of the IRA is an offence, although it is almost impossible to prove, and a similar problem would arise with criminal groups. Senior police officers have told the House of Commons home affairs committee, which is conducting an inquiry into organised crime, that the successful prosecution of the leaders of criminal groups is difficult because they distance themselves from the actual crimes.
'As an island community, we could take advantage of our geography to proscribe specific criminal organisations and inhibit members from residency in the UK,' says the submission by police staff associations.
It says that the difficulties of implementing the legislation should not be underestimated, but stresses that other countries have taken the same stance against criminal bodies. The police hope the committee will adopt their proposal. William Taylor, the assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in charge of specialist operations, said the measures could be made to work. 'It would be best to do it on a Europe-wide basis, with every country defining the organisations being proscribed.' This could lead to the restriction of movement of suspected major criminals to within their own national boundaries.
In a Europe of free movement between countries, police are likely to require a large intelligence base and greater exchanges of information, especially if they are no longer able to conduct border checks. Senior police officers are particularly concerned that the Mafia could extend its activities in this country, as all four main Mafia groups have been identified here, mainly in drug dealing.
One problem facing the police in drawing up legislation is defining organised crime without leaving loopholes that could be exploited by criminals. The police believe the National Criminal Intelligence Service definition - 'organised crime constitutes any enterprise, or group of persons engaged in illegal activities which has as its purpose the generation of profits, irrespective of national boundaries' - could be flawed.
'In the definition 'profit' is a pre-requisite, therefore any organised criminal activity without that aim would escape the net based on the definition. This limitation would be exploited by criminals,' the submission says.