The long arm of international law

Cross-border crime is one of the hot topics that Commonwealth law ministers will be discussing at an international summit in Africa

Commonwealth law ministers will be discussing measures to reduce international crime during their May meeting in Botswana. The ministers will be considering recommendations made at the Meeting of Senior Officials of Commonwealth Law Ministries last year, which looked at cross-border cyber crime and other instances of criminals breaking laws in multiple jurisdictions. 

The London meeting of law officials, which took place in September 2013, noted that many countries currently lack the capacity to prevent their territory being used as a safe haven for IT-based international criminal activity, and that combating these crimes will require effective co-operation between criminal justice officials in different jurisdictions. 

Polycarp Chibueze Okorie, special assistant to the Attorney-General of Nigeria, said his country was very concerned about the cross-border scams known as 419, which were associated with Nigeria. “Everywhere you go there is the impression that the average Nigerian is involved in cyber crime and this is not true,” he said at the September meeting. “Even when you send correspondence for genuine business transactions people are suspicious.” 

He added that the Nigerian government is introducing a new law to tackle cyber crime and is committed to taking a holistic approach to it, but that co-operation with other countries and specialised training of security and justice officials were vital for addressing this issue. 

Ronny James Govinden, Attorney-General of the Republic of Seychelles, also voiced his country’s need for support to tackle cybercrime. “We do not have a Cyber Crime Act. We are a small jurisdiction and cybercrime is a highly technical offence both in terms of drafting the legislation and enforcing the law,” he said, adding that the model Cyber Crime Act drawn up by the Commonwealth was a helpful guide to Seychelles. 

‘Aminiasi Kefu, Solicitor-General of Tonga, said that for a small, remote country like Tonga, with a population of just 100,000, IT is vital for communication and money transfer. Yet without the support and co-operation of other countries, Tonga would be unable to protect its communication and IT network from cyber attacks. 

In 2011, law ministers adopted the revised Commonwealth Scheme on International Co-operation in Criminal Matters (the Harare Scheme) to assist member countries to co-operate in order to combat transnational crime effectively. Shirani de Fontgalland, acting director of the Legal Division at the Commonwealth Secretariat, says: “The Secretariat is developing model legislation to assist countries in implementing the scheme, which now includes provisions on the interception of communications. The Secretariat also facilitates the Commonwealth Network of Contact Persons – a network of criminal justice officials from each member country who can provide informal advice and information on making mutual assistance requests to their jurisdictions.” 

She adds that the Secretariat has conducted training on international co-operation, designed to arm criminal justice officials with the skills to tackle transnational crime. Ground covered during the training included looking at international co-operation and examining possibilities for mutual legal assistance. Delegates also learnt more about cyber crime, extradition, anti-money laundering, asset recovery, forfeiture and victim protection. 

The Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting 2014 takes place in Gaborone, Botswana 5-9 May, hosted by the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security.


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