Brussels, 11 April 2011
European arrest warrant fights cross-border crime, but EU Member States can improve how it is used, Commission report says
Europeans have the right to travel freely within the EU for work, study or holidays. But open borders should not allow criminals to evade justice simply by travelling to another Member State. The European arrest warrant – in effect since 2004 – provides an efficient tool for extraditing people suspected of an offence from one EU country to another, so that criminals have no hiding place in Europe. For example, dozens of suspected drug smugglers, murderers and child sex crime offenders have been brought back to the UK from Spain thanks to the system. While there are many successes, EU Member States can improve how the system – which is based on mutual confidence between national judicial systems – operates, the European Commission found in a report released today. Member States should use the European arrest warrant with due regard to fundamental rights and the actual need for extradition in each case.
"The European arrest warrant is an important tool to catch criminals, but Member Sates should ensure that it is used correctly," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. “National governments need to build up trust between their judicial systems so that the European arrest warrant works even more efficiently. In view of their important fundamental rights implications, European arrest warrants should not be issued mechanically, or automatically, for crimes that are not very serious such as bicycle theft."
The Commission's report assesses how Member States have implemented the European arrest warrant since 2007 and takes stock of its operation so far. Member States issued 54,689 European arrest warrants between 2005 and 2009, leading to 11,630 suspects being surrendered. Over the same period, the arrest warrant has had a marked effect in speeding up the transfer of suspected offenders between EU countries. Extradition before the arrest warrant used to take an average of one year, but this has now been cut to 16 days when the suspect agrees to surrender, or 48 days when they do not. The European arrest warrant has therefore become a key tool in the fight against crime, and an important aspect of internal security in the EU.
Among those surrendered, thanks to the European arrest warrant, were a failed London bomber caught in Italy, a German serial killer tracked down in Spain, a suspected drug smuggler from Malta extradited from the UK, a gang of armed robbers sought by Italy whose members were then arrested in six different EU countries and very recently a large international operation against highway cargo theft networks was dismantled in five countries.
While taking note of the European arrest warrant's success in providing an efficient way to extradite suspects in a border-free EU, the Commission also acknowledges that its operation could be improved. The report highlights that the effectiveness of the European arrest warrant can be hampered by concerns over respect for fundamental rights in Member States and a possible over-use in cases that are not very serious.
The Commission is tackling some of these issues by helping to guarantee fair trials through minimum EU standards for the rights of people suspected or accused of a crime. The EU has already adopted legislation on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings (IP/10/1305) and proposed common rules to guarantee suspects are informed of their rights (IP/10/1652). Further measures are planned to ensure access to a lawyer and the right to communicate with family members and employers. Each of these measures will apply to suspects who are subject to a European arrest warrant, helping to ensure respect for their fundamental rights.
Yet Member States are responsible for making the main improvements in how the European Arrest Warrant is implemented. Member States should make sure the arrest warrant system is not undermined by multiple arrest warrants for offences that are not very serious, such as the theft of a bicycle. Before issuing an arrest warrant, Member State judicial authorities should consider the seriousness of the offence, length of sentence and the costs and benefits of executing an arrest warrant. The principle of proportionality needs to be carefully respected when implementing the warrant.
To improve the system's operation, the Commission will therefore:
call on EU Member States to fill gaps where their legislation fails to fully comply with the framework decision setting up the European arrest warrant;
ask Member States to ensure that judicial practitioners, such as prosecutors, do not issue an arrest warrant for very minor offences, in line with the guidelines set out in the handbook on the arrest warrant, including countries where prosecution is mandatory;
come forward with proposals in before the end of 2011 to step up training for police authorities, judicial authorities and legal practitioners on the arrest warrant to ensure consistency and effectiveness in the way it is applied and raise awareness of the new EU safeguards for procedural rights;
encourage Member States to implement complementary measures (four Framework Decisions) addressing issues such as the transfer of sentences and judgments when the defendant is not present;
seek to improve statistical data collection on the arrest warrant from the Member States, so that the system can be properly evaluated;
continue to monitor closely the operation of the arrest warrant and consider all possible options to address shortcomings, including further measures to improve procedural rights.
This is the Commission's third report since the European Arrest Warrant came into force as the system of extradition between Member States in January 2004.
Justice Directorate-General Newsroom:
Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner:
European Arrest Warrants in Member States – Number of issued European Arrest Warrants ('issued') and number of European Arrest Warrants resulting in the effective surrender of the person sought ('executed') from year 2005 to year 2009