Maastricht: Mackay stresses benefits of co-operation in justice: Justice ministers' meeting

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The Independent Online
LORD MACKAY, the Lord Chancellor, suggested yesterday that parts of the Maastricht treaty involving co-operation in areas such as immigration, crime and terrorism could be implemented even if the treaty is not ratified.

At a press conference following a meeting of European justice ministers, Lord Mackay placed on record his support for Maastricht, which was a 'good treaty for Britain'.

The issue of improving home affairs co-operation outside the treaty had not arisen at the meeting, he said, adding: 'I don't think it's possible to isolate one aspect of Maastricht from the others.' But he also said elements of Maastricht 'might well function without any full treaty dealing with other subject matters'.

British officials have long stressed the need for greater co- operation in many home affairs areas and say the present arrangements have grown up in an ad hoc manner. They cite the Trevi group - a forum for European justice ministers that co- ordinates efforts to fight terrorism - as an example, pointing out that the body lacks financial experts with knowledge of money laundering.

Under the Maastricht proposals, a council of justice and interior ministers would be established, although it would lack powers to direct policies in the member states. Any arrangements would be ratified through inter-governmental agreements, something that could - in theory - be achieved either inside or outside the Maastricht framework. Countries could sign treaties between themselves, for instance permitting better co-ordination of legal policies.

In a speech last night, Lord Mackay was keen to stress the benefits of European co-operation in justice and home affairs. 'Whatever uncertainties we might find ourselves amongst at the moment, I believe that we have cause for optimism,' he said. 'We share common goals. Our different systems are gradually learning to accommodate each other. And more than that, those different systems, and Community law itself, are benefiting from this close association.'

However, there was little sign at the press conference of progress in legal co-operation. British lawyers hoping for an agreement to enable them to practise in other European countries were disappointed. The Lord Chancellor said yesterday's meeting had decided only to wait until professional associations reach an accord.

Plans to speed up the work of the European Court of Justice, by allowing a lower court to handle more cases, also appeared to make little headway.