Customs Operational Practices for Enforcement and Seizures (COPES)

The concept of Customs Operational Practices for Enforcement and Seizures (COPES) arose out of an awareness among Members of the World Customs Organization (WCO) of the need to improve their evidence collection standards so as to integrate the activities of Customs agencies more effectively in relation to organized crime and problems associated with border security. With that in mind, starting in 2010 the Members, in conjunction with the Secretariat, compiled a Compendium – known as COPES – which was adopted in 2011 at the 31st Session of the Enforcement Committee. Enhancements to the document were made and subsequently endorsed by the Committee and the Council in 2013.

Following recommendations by Members, the updated Compendium includes instructions and an overview of the inter-relationship between evidence collection & handling and the investigative process.  In order to give the Compendium even greater effect, the project moved on to a new stage with more comprehensive training modules and instructions on the topic of evidence collection, in particular as it relates to the development of a more complete enforcement process. In this respect, a two-year project was initiated to raise the profile among Members of the critical role played by seizure and evidence collection procedures in establishing a more robust border enforcement structure. 

Taking into consideration the fact that the implementation of this project was successful and would answer a real need on the part of Customs administrations around the world, the WCO wrote a new business proposal in order to take advantage of the momentum created. The COPES Project has therefore become the COPES Programme, which focuses on evidence collection and seizures in relation to on the one hand, the fight against organized crime and on the other, overall border security in compliance with Resolution 1540 of the UNSC and the WCO’s Punta Cana Resolution.

Programme objectives:

  • There is genuine continuity between the COPES Project and the COPES Programme. The objective remains to raise awareness of the essential role played by the procedures for seizing goods and collecting evidence to support effective and efficient border security practices in order to allow efficient investigations and prosecutions. The COPES concept aims at placing the Customs’ action in the judicial system. Indeed, it encourages Customs administrations to look beyond their traditional functions of gathering evidence and making seizures, bearing in mind the need to have the authority/judiciary hand down sentences if we are to be effective in countering the threats to law and order faced by our societies.
    These sentences perform the following functions: deterrence (with reference to sentencing that serves as an example), penalties for offenders, protecting legitimate trade, flagging the proceeds of fraud to the Exchequer, and keeping the public safe. COPES therefore simultaneously addresses a range of challenges which are: economic; budgetary; law and order-related; and security-related.
  • The COPES Programme places greater emphasis on security aspects such as those embodied in the Punta Cana Resolution issued by the WCO in December 2015, and in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540. The fight against terrorism, the financing of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction will henceforth form an integral part of the threats considered.
  • The COPES Programme satisfies these objectives through the implementation of preventive measures on the one hand, and the application of penalties on the other. First, it promotes professional practices which provide Customs services and other border agencies with a better understanding of flows of persons, goods or capital. Second, it disseminates those practices regarded as being most effective in terms of evidence collection, thus making it possible to conduct investigations and prosecutions. The services concerned are therefore improving their capabilities in terms of collecting the relevant evidence, in terms of managing seized goods, documenting seized goods and guaranteeing their traceability. All these operations are conducted in strict compliance with international rules and national legal provisions.
  • Finally, the COPES Programme offers a considerable advantage. It has a cross-cutting function that impacts on all the WCO’s enforcement priorities, including the Strategic Trade Control Enforcement (STCE) Programme, the Container Control Programme (CCP), Project AIRCOP (establishing secure operational communications between international airports) and Project INAMA (to combat trafficking affecting protected species).