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Judges and prosecutors will be able to exchange evidence on cross-border investigations more easily under a deal agreed by EU ministers on 1 June.

The European evidence warrant aims to speed up the cross-border transfer of documents, photographs, weapons and other investigative materials between national authorities.

The evidence warrant will support the EU arrest warrant - set up to transfer criminal suspects more quickly.

Vice-President of the European Commission and Justice, Freedom and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini said the deal would markedly improve European law enforcement.

Member states had been trying to agree the contentious details of the move for almost three years as under existing rules, national investigators and prosecutors can wait for months or years to receive evidence from other EU authorities.

Although the text agreed by interior ministers in Luxembourg does not set a target time to transfer materials, an EU official said it should cut the wait to a maximum of two months.

The warrant will not cover telecommunications data or DNA samples and fingerprints, although further evidence could be included in the scheme if national governments agree.

The legislation is currently expected to come into force within two years - but not in Germany, who sought exemptions from the plan, arguing that six offences were not clearly defined in the legal text.

5 June 2006

 Last updated: 07/06/2006 10:31:00

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