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UNODC promotes regional Mutual Legal Assistance network

Bangkok (Thailand), 17 July 2012 - As crime becomes increasingly transnational in nature, national prosecution and law enforcement authorities are required to act cooperatively beyond their national borders.

One of the most important legal tools enabling national authorities to counter transnational crime is Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA), which has been a focus of the UN through a series of recently developed legal conventions on crime.

MLA is a process by which one state seeks legal assistance from another state, typically to obtain evidence, recover illegal profits of crime or obtain statements or documents for the purpose of investigation or prosecution. MLA requests have increased along with transnational organized crime because evidence and illegal profits are often located outside the nation where an offence was committed.

In practice, providing MLA effectively is difficult. Legal and technical issues such as dual criminality, channels of transmission, lack of mutual understanding on MLA legislation and differences in language cause significant delays in instituting MLA practices. As a result, transnational organized criminal groups are able to evade prosecution. It is evident that there is a dire need to find measures to expedite MLA proceedings.

To explore MLA measures with Member States, UNODC Regional Centre of East Asia and the Pacific (RCEAP) organized a workshop in Bangkok, titled "Senior-level Workshop on Mutual Legal Assistance in East Asia and the Pacific".

Attended by representatives and senior-level practitioners from nine ASEAN Member States -Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Viet Nam - as well as Japan and the Republic of Korea, the workshop aimed to break down the legal and technical barriers in rendering MLA and to explore measures to build an effective MLA regime across East Asia and the Pacific.



"This workshop aims to provide a discussion forum for senior-level officers in charge of practicing MLA," said Mr. Keebong Paek, Senior Prosecutorial and Judicial Adviser, UNODC RCEAP. "We hope every participant will increase their level of mutual understanding by sharing views and concerns in order to institute more effective MLA practices in this region."

Attendees were chosen by their governments for their extensive knowledge and experience in MLA issues. They represented the central authorities for MLA in their respective countries, mostly prosecution authorities or Ministries of Justice.

"There is a need to strengthen the capacity of central authorities on MLA in this region with adequate staff and infrastructure and capitalizing on information technology," said Mr. Keng Siong Kow, Senior State Counsel, Attorney-General's Chambers, Singapore.

The workshop concluded with the "Report of the Meeting on Senior-level Workshop on Mutual Legal Assistance in East Asia and the Pacific", which was adopted by all the participants. The Report discusses challenges, and legal and technical issues. It also includes commitments from participants to improve effective MLA practices in the region. The Report notes that MLA capacity building by central authorities in East Asia and the Pacific is one of the most crucial challenges towards achieving success.

This workshop is part of a series of continuous efforts by UNODC RCEAP to build regional networks among practitioners in the region working in the field of criminal justice by enhancing their mutual understanding.

"Based on my experience in building cooperation at an international level, trust has proven to be the most important aspect of securing its success" said Mr. Eunjae Park, Director of International Criminal Affairs Division, Ministry of Justice, the Republic of Korea. "Trust has been built among the participants through face-to face communication. I believe this will be key to the outcome of this workshop."

Background:

This workshop was organized by the Towards AsiaJust Programme (TAJ), a sub-programme of the UNODC's Regional Programme Framework for East Asia and the Pacific. TAJ is funded by the Republic of Korea.