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Briefings

European Arrest Warrant pros outweigh cons

in | by Luke Lythgoe

The European Arrest Warrant was introduced in 2004 to make extradition of people wanted for serious crimes speedier and simpler. This EU-wide system replaced several separate extradition arrangements.

The relevant national authority, often a court, can issue an EAW to any other member state. EAWs can only be issued for offences carrying a maximum penalty of at least a year in prison, or when the individual has already been sentenced to at least four months in prison. EU states can no longer refuse to extradite one of their own citizens on the grounds of nationality.

The benefits to Britain

The EAW was not foisted upon Britain by the EU. The UK was given an ‘opt in’ to European justice and home affairs measures by the Treaty of Lisbon. The Coalition government then opted out of 130 old EU measures, before opting back into 35 of them – including the EAW.

Speed of extradition is one benefit. Under the EAW, extradition takes an average of three months, compared to 10 months for non-EU countries. The classic EAW success story is that of failed 21 July London bomber Hussain Osman, who was returned from Italy in eight weeks.

Wealthy Britain is a popular destination for criminals, and the EAW has seen significant numbers of foreign criminals removed from British soil. Between 2010 and 2014 Britain surrendered 5,365 criminals to other EU countries, of whom over 95% were foreign nationals. Among those were 70 wanted on child sex offences, 100 for rape and 115 for murder, plus 497 on drug trafficking charges.

Of course, Britain also gets to extradite those wanted for trial in the UK. In the same period, other EU countries surrendered 675 people, 189 of whom were handed over by Spain. The clearing up of the “Costa del Crime” is considered a success story of the EAW.

Crime is becoming increasingly internationalised. Europol speaks of a “travelling criminal gang phenomenon” originating in Eastern Europe. The Association of Chief Police Officers described the EAW as “an essential weapon”, whilst Europol said “it has transformed the nature of international police co-operation”.

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Criticisms of the European Arrest Warrant

For all the genuine criminals extradited, there are occasional horror stories. British teenager Andrew Symeou was extradited to Greece in 2009, charged with killing a man in a nightclub in Zakynthos. He spent nearly a year in a Greek jail – considered among Europe’s worst – before his case was eventually thrown out for flawed evidence.

Cases like this undermine what the EU calls the “mutual trust” allowing member states to extradite their citizens. The European Commission published a green paper in 2011 urging alternative measures to pre-trial detention. It cites the right to “trial within a reasonable time” (Art. 5.3) in the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the Council of Europe’s European Prison Rules.

The other major gripe is the number of EAWs issued for trivial offences and the cost to UK courts of processing them. The “obligation to prosecute” in EU countries such as Poland has led to EAWs being issued for offences as minor as exceeding a credit card limit, piglet rustling, and the theft of a wheelbarrow. These slipped through the one-year sentence criteria because this is based on whether the crime “could” result in that sentence.

This abuse should become a thing of the past since Theresa May amended the UK’s Extradition Act in 2015. The amendments include a proportionality test under which the National Crime Agency cannot certify an EAW if it is deemed disproportionate. The European Parliament has also called for proportionality checks to be implemented across the EU, although this has so far only appeared in a European Commission handbook.

Edited by Jane Macartney