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European Arrest Warrant

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Created in 2002, the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is an arrest warrant that is valid across all EU member states. Once issued the person concerned must be arrested in the EU country where they are residing and transferred to the member state which issued the warrant.

It has been in use since 2004 and was designed to make it easier to extradite (transfer) suspected or convicted criminals between EU member states so they can be prosecuted and/or serve their sentence in the country where they are suspected of having committed a crime. It means that in most circumstances EU countries can no longer refuse to hand over their citizens to authorities in another EU member state. Extradition from one EU member state to another used to be a complex practice as EU member states had different rules governing the process.

How does the European Arrest Warrant work?
The EAW is the first system introduced into the EU based on the principle of mutual recognition of judicial decisions, meaning that a decision made by a judge or court in one EU state is taken into account by judges in other member states. The EAW can be issued if:

  • The person is accused of an offence carrying a maximum sentence of at least 12 months in prison
  • The person has already been issued to a prison sentence of at least four months

To use the EAW, the country requesting the return of an individual seeks permission from a judge and then fills in an EAW form. The Schengen Information System issues an alert and the judicial authority, in the country where the person concerned is, has a certain number of days to respond. If the person requested to surrender accepts the extradition then the judicial authority has 10 days to respond. However, if the person does not consent to the extradition then the authority has 60 days to respond.

A country does not have to comply with an EAW request if:

  • The individual is granted amnesty by the country they are in
  • The individual is under the age of criminal responsibility in the arresting country
  • The person has previously been prosecuted for the same offence by an EU country
  • There is a real risk that the individual will suffer inhuman and degrading treatment due to the conditions of their detention

In 2014, the UK used an option which allowed them opt out of all of the EU’s police and criminal justice measures (around 130) and then signed back up to 35 of them, including the European Arrest Warrant.

In April 2016, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that, when an arrest warrant is issued, the member state must assess the risk that inhuman and degrading treatment will occur if the extradition is carried out. If the member state finds that such a risk exists, they must not extradite the individual.

Use of the European Arrest Warrant

From 2004 to 2014 there were 58,437 requests for individuals to be arrested under an EAW in the UK. 9,930 of those were arrested and 7,137 were surrendered to the requesting countries. The EAW has reduced the timeframe for intra-EU extradition from an average of a year, to around 16 days when the individual consents, and around 48 days when they do not consent. In 2013, the government estimated each EAW issued for the UK cost around £20,000.

The number of EAWs being issued has risen each year. This has led to criticism that they are being misused, used for trivial crimes and costing governments too much. There have been a number of notable successes, including the arrest of a failed London bomber in Italy and a German serial killer being arrested in Spain.

Member states remain free to make bilateral and multilateral agreements which further simplify and speed up the extradition process