Moves to close a loophole which is hampering the fight against cross border crime and terrorism cleared an important hurdle today.
Proposals by Conservative Home Affairs Spokesman Daniel Dalton will enable national authorities to establish quickly whether any EU member state holds criminal records on a non-EU citizen. They have been backed in talks between European Parliament and Council negotiators today and are now expected to be voted on by Parliament in the New Year.
Under the arrangements, a new European Criminal Records Information System Third Country National (ECRIS-TCN) system will contain data such as names, addresses, fingerprints and facial images.
In addition to judges and prosecutors in EU countries, Europol, Eurojust and the future European Public Prosecutor's Office will also have access to the system.
Mr Dalton said: "The fast, reliable exchange of information is key in the fight against crime at all levels. This measure aims to make it harder for criminals to slip through the net.
"Our citizens will be less safe if we leave this gaping legal loophole wide open any longer. With time ticking on this matter, we need to move forward as quickly as possible."
He added: "The inclusion of facial images on the database will improve the accuracy of searches and help prevent cases of mistaken identity.
"However, strong safeguards must be built in whenever personal information is held centrally. Therefore the report includes guarantees that requests for correction and deletion are dealt with swiftly."
At present, if a non-EU national is arrested and prosecuted in the UK, legal authorities have no way of knowing if that person has a criminal record elsewhere in the bloc. The new searchable database will close that loophole by providing details of where such information is held.