This afternoon MPs will take part in a vital debate, the main point of which is to decide whether or not Britain should opt back into the European Arrest Warrant (EAW). Big Brother Watch has been clear in the past that the EAW risks seeing UK citizens extradited for minor crimes and in some instances forced to spend months in detention before their case even comes to trial.
In an article for ConservativeHome Mark Field MP, a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee argues that the EAW is vital for tackling serious international crime, such as terrorism and large scale fraud. Whilst the measure was introduced in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, as part of the EU’s attempts to combat international terrorism and cross-border crime, there has been a significant shift in its focus in the intervening years.
The original aims of the EAW are certainly laudable, but it has been subject to severe mission creep since 2002. This has led to a situation whereby warrants have been sent to the UK for the extradition of a man guilty of stealing a wheelbarrow and some tools or another who had committed the crime of piglet rustling. The number of frivolous requests and the resulting administrative burden this has created is clearly shown by a report by the European Parliamentary Research Service: in 2011 the UK received 6760 EAWs, of these 5761 were not executed.
Over the weekend you may have read about the Government’s plans for more policing powers to be transferred over to the EU, including the prospect of the UK joining a Europe-wide DNA database. Considering a debate is planned for Thursday on the current set of Justice and Home Affairs opt-outs, these plans seem absurdly premature.
You can read our briefing note on the reported plans and our concerns about the problems with the current system here.
There are some fundamental problems with the UK’s DNA database (DNAD) that need urgently addressing before the Government even thinks about allowing EU Member States to have direct access to the data. These problems are outlined in our 2012 report (pdf), which was published following the reforms made by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.
The Prüm Treaty may yet be implemented in the UK as a report shows that the European Commission plans to force the UK to allow other member states access to personal details of every motorist in Britain as well as access to the national DNA database and fingerprint records.
The Home Secretary has indicated that she is minded to opt out of the European Home Affairs Injustice measures in 2014, a step that would enable a full and frank discussion on how to sufficiently protect the rights of UK citizens. We can now hope that the Home Secretary will share the same robustness towards the European Commission on this matter.
Today Big Brother Watch is delighted to publish a paper authored by Conor Burns MP on the European Arrest Warrant.
The paper calls on the Government to urgently review the European Arrest Warrant system, warning that the current operation of the warrants is “fundamentally incompatible” with the principles of British justice. To protect the ‘interests, rights and liberties of British citizens’ Conor argues reform of the arrest warrant system is essential.
It is not unreasonable to ask that British citizens should not be extradited for offences that either trivial or not recognised as crimes in the UK, while being sure that they will not face prolonged uncertainty in a foreign jail before a decision to charge is even made.
At present a warrant can be issued by any member state of the EU, with the receiving country not able to challenge the warrant’s basis or to demand evidence be provided to substantiate the allegations being made. This leads to a serious risk that individuals are held without charge while investigations are conducted, in some cases for many months. Furthermore, the report argues that British citizens should be able to choose to be tried in a UK court, rather than be extradited to less judicially-rigorous nations.
The system is in dire need of reform to protect the civil liberties of British citizens and the longer the Government waits, the greater the risk of yet another tragic case arising. With MPs from every party agreeing the system is not working, delay is inexcusable.
Lord Baker’s review into UK Extradition Law – all 488 pages of it – has been published today. A major section of the report deals with the working of the European Arrest Warrant, which Big Brother Watch held a fringe meeting on at Conservative conference.
Before the election, Dominic Grieve summed up the situation well. He said: “Our extradition laws are a mess. They’re one-sided. A Conservative government will re-write them.” Nick Clegg was in agreement on the failures of the UK/US Extradition treaty, adding: “I forced a debate on it…and warned the Government then that the treaty would lead to an abuse of people’s rights in this country.”
Nick de Bois MP, who spoke at our fringe event, yesterday outlined what he would like the review to say on the European Arrest Warrant. His view shares the concerns of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, who reported in July this year on the need for reform.