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Expert View

Brexit boon for criminals and terrorists fleeing UK justice

by Denis MacShane | 31.05.2018

Denis MacShane is a former Minister of Europe and was a Labour MP for 18 years.

One rare bit of the EU Theresa May seems to like is the European Arrest Warrant. In her six years as home secretary, May came to value the use of the EAW as a means of getting wanted criminals speedily returned to the UK without wasting years waiting for extradition proceedings to finish.

The most famous British use of the EAW was in 2005 when one of the terrorists involved in the London bombing, Hussain Osman, was brought back from Rome where lawyers were seeking to shelter him from British justice.

In 1995, similar Islamist terror bombs had been used on the Paris metro. The man who financed the operation, Rachid Ramda, sought refuge in London. For ten years he was protected by London lawyers and judges who refused to extradite this declared terrorist to Paris to face justice.

The introduction of the EAW in 2004 transformed European crime fighting. Terrorists and other criminals could no longer hope to stave off facing justice by hiring expensive lawyers and mounting public relations campaigns to proclaim their innocence.

In 2012, Jason McKay was sent back from Poland to face justice over the death of his girlfriend. And the teacher Jeremy Forrest, who fled to France with a schoolgirl, was quickly sent back using an EAW. According to National Crime Agency figures the UK used EAWs to secure the return of 178 wanted fugitives from justice in 2016-17.

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Without exception every senior police officer wants to keep the EAW. May constantly faced down opposition from anti-EU Tories to insist on the EAW’s usefulness to UK police and justice officials.

At the Munich Security Conference in February she announced the UK should stay in the EAW. But just because May likes the EAW does not mean the our police forces can have automatic access to it. It is part and parcel of EU membership. Even Norway and Iceland, members of the European Economic Area and closely tied to the EU’s single market, have had to negotiation a substitute “Surrender Agreement” which has not yet been ratified by all member states. Nothing like the EAW is open to non-EEA European states, such as Russia or Turkey.

Article 16 of the German constitution stipulates: “No German may be extradited to a foreign country. The law may provide otherwise for extraditions to a member state of the European Union.” In fact, 18 of the EU’s member states have rules forbidding the extradition of their nationals to a foreign country other than to a fellow EU member state.

German officials at the European Commission have politely pointed out that, despite May’s insistence that the UK should stay in the EAW system after Britain leaves the EU next March, it will be simply impossible for Germany to ignore its constitution. The EAW works on the basis of EU membership.

Similarly, the UK’s future access to EU databases for DNA, fingerprints and air passenger records – under the so-called Prüm Convention – are being blocked by France, according to reports in The Times. Access to this sensitive intelligence must be “compatible with EU law”, accepting the overarching authority of the European Court of Justice as the ultimate arbiter in case of a legal dispute. But May insists EU law cannot apply to the UK after Brexit – a contradictory position to her desire to continue participating fully in EU crime-fighting.

By insisting on her hard Brexit and refusing to consult the British people, the prime minister is unwittingly making herself a friend of the criminal class and letting down every chief constable who believed her promise that Brexit didn’t mean losing EU crime-fighting tools like the European Arrest Warrant. If the public don’t like that idea, they should get a people’s vote on the Brexit deal May finally comes back with.

This article has been corrected since publication. The UK used EAWs to secure the return of 178 wanted fugitives from justice in 2016-17, rather than 374 which was previously stated.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

2 Responses to “Brexit boon for criminals and terrorists fleeing UK justice”

  • If the UK were to use an arrest warrant arrangement to to seek the easy extradition of British fugitives (or any other nationality other than German), then the German constitution is surely not a problem as I t only applies to German National.

  • Stewart Gray,
    That assumes no German criminals take advantage of their constitution to commit crimes over here and then nip off home.