Home ministry issues revised guidelines for mutual legal assistance treaties

New Delhi, Jan 8 (PTI) The Union Home Ministry has issued revised guidelines for mutual legal assistance in criminal matters with other nations as part of the government's policy of zero tolerance for crime and in an endeavour to fast track the dispensation of justice.

India has signed Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLAT) with 42 countries for cooperation in criminal matters and the home ministry is the designated 'central authority' for the country for it, an official statement said.

In furtherance to the government's policy of zero tolerance for crime and in an endeavour to fast track the dispensation of justice, the home ministry has taken steps to enhance and streamline the process of international mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, it said.

The revised guidelines for mutual legal assistance in criminal matters were issued by the home ministry in December 2019.

Under the MLAT, a country can request for obtaining evidence for criminal investigations and prosecutions. The evidence includes witness statements or the service of documents among others.

The revised guidelines provide step-by-step guidance to the investigation agencies for drafting and processing letters rogatory or mutual legal assistance requests and service of summons, notices and other judicial documents.

By incorporating various legal and technological developments in the recent years, it aims to make the documentation in this regard more precise and focused as well as compliant with international requirements, the statement said.

The guidelines have also taken into account the concerns raised by various courts for prompt and timely responses in service of documents on persons residing abroad. As an initiative, the revised guidelines have provision for service of documents on authorities of foreign country preferably within 10 days of receipt of request in respect of offences committed against women and children.

Training in mutual legal assistance in criminal matters has also been taken up for investigators, prosecutors and judicial officers.

The transnational nature of crime and digital explosion has blurred geographical boundaries for criminal activities. Availability of evidence and criminals outside the sovereign jurisdiction of countries has necessitated the transformation of scope and nature of conventional investigation.

India has entered into Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties and agreements with 42 countries and is signatory to various international conventions -- UNCAC, UNTOC etc. Generally, assistance is sought and received in the form of mutual legal assistance requests or letters rogatory and service of summons, notices, judicial documents on persons residing abroad.

In order to streamline the process of rendering or seeking such assistance, the home ministry had issued guidelines regarding investigation abroad and issue of letters rogatory in 2007 and regarding service of summons, notices or judicial process on the persons residing abroad in 2009.

Over the decade, there have been substantial changes in international cooperation based on new legislations, regulations and conventions and amendment in procedural laws all over the world including India, the statement said.

These changes necessitated the need for comprehensive review of existing guidelines to keep them abreast the modern era requirements, it said. PTI ACB ZMN