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Britain's future is with Europe! Join the debate and put your opinion forward!

by Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, member of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee. ///

Last week to astonishing cries of “shame” from the Conservative backbenches, Home Secretary Theresa May announced that the UK will seek to remain a part of 35 European policing and criminal justice measures, including the European Arrest Warrant, Europol and Eurojust. Thanks to the Liberal Democrats, the efforts of such Eurosceptic Tory MPs to make the government go soft on cross-border crime were blocked and our police will continue to have the tools they need to bring criminals to justice and keep the public safe.

The prelude to the Home Secretary’s announcement dates back to when the previous Labour government negotiated a protocol to the Lisbon treaty whereby the UK could decide in 2014 to exercise a ‘block optout’ of all the pre-2009 police and criminal justice cooperation instruments, to which it had signed up to in the preceding decade.

This opened up the hornet’s nest of the UK being able to ‘repatriate’ powers from the EU, which had Eurosceptic Conservatives foaming at the mouth. If they had been in government on their own – unconstrained by the LibDems – I’m certain the Conservatives would have let their Eurosceptic wing trump common sense by opting out of all of these crime-fighting measures. This would have left our police high and dry in the fight against cross-border crime.

In an ideal world, I would have preferred for the UK government to refrain from using the block optout at all. This is in line with the view of the cross-party House of Lords EU committee, which said that none of the measures are harmful to the national interest and that exercising the block optout was unnecessary. Some of these measures are obsolete but they could have been left to wither on the vine, or repealed or replaced through negotiations with our European partners. Regrettably, the Conservatives were so hell bent on getting their “Ministers to seize back 100 powers from Brussels” headline from the Daily Telegraph that they were unable to see the logic of this strategy.

Nevertheless, thanks to no less the Liberal Democrats, the UK will, subject to any more spanners in the works, remain a part of all the measures deemed vital by the Association of Chief Police Officers. The critical importance of keeping the UK in these justice and policing co-operation measures is best illustrated by the number of people we’ve extradited to other countries using the European Arrest Warrant to face justice for acts committed abroad. Since 2009, we have used it to deport over 4,000 criminal suspects from the UK to other EU countries, including 57 for child sex offences, 414 for drug trafficking, 86 for rape and 105 for murder. Senior police rightly warned the Conservative Ministers that without the EAW the UK would have become a safe haven for these criminals, who may have gone on to commit further offences in Britain.

Yet it’s not just a case of extraditing people to other European countries; it’s also about getting wanted persons back. Hussain Osman, one of the failed 7/7 London bombers, is now serving a life sentence in Britain for terrorism, after he was extradited from Italy using the EAW. Earlier this year one of Britain’s most wanted criminals, Andrew Moran, was returned to the UK using the Euro-warrant to face armed robbery charges following a raid on a luxury villa on Spain’s Costa Blanca.

Before the EAW was introduced extradition used to take an average of one year, but now that has been cut to an average of 48 days. If the Eurosceptics had got their way on opting out of the EAW it would have taken much longer for the UK to bring the likes of Osman and Moran back to face British justice. Given they have expressed frustration over the protracted Abu Qatada deportation saga, it beggars belief that Eurosceptic Tories were prepared to go soft on crime by opting out of the European Arrest Warrant and making it harder to extradite and bring to justice criminals within the EU. The EAW does need reform, and work is in progress to deliver that, but pulling out of it is not the solution.

The challenge of persuading a bunch of rabid Eurosceptics of the necessity of European cooperation was very considerable. This goes some way to explain why the negotiations with the Conservatives within the coalition government took over a year to complete. I would like to pay tribute to the persistence and dogged determination of the Liberal Democrat negotiating team led by Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander, which deserves much credit for ensuring that we will continue to work with our European partners to fight cross-border crime. Thanks to their efforts common sense prevailed and our police will continue to have access to the vital tools they need to catch criminals and keep the public safe.

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  1. Baroness Sarah Ludford is I assume unaware of the comments of Lord Justice Thomas (the most senior UK extradition judge and the senior judge for European issues) on the matter of the European Arrest Warrant. As reported on the 4th November 2012 he described the EAW as “unworkable in the end” due to the wildly varying standards of criminal justice administration across the EU. Are we to believe Baroness Ludford regards this highly respected judge as a rabid Eurosceptic rather than a highly qualified and experienced specialist in this field ?

    It is also unfortunate that Baroness Sarah Ludford failed to mention the campaign now being run by Fair Trials International against the EAW due to the repeated miscarriages of justice and impingement on individual civil liberties. Indeed on the 15th July 2013 The Times published the latest letter from this body relating to the scandal of the Andrew Symeou case. The Symeou case is far from being unusual, prosecutions such as that of Edmond Arapi (convicted of murder in absentia in Genoa for murder, he had never been in the city and in fact was in Staffordshire on the day of the offence, none of which stopped him from serving time in an Italian prison) are all to common. Additionally let us not forget that individuals can be arrested under the terms of an EAW after being sentenced by any European court for a matter that they were not even aware were on going, ie the first you know about matters is when the police turn up to take you to the airport to start your sentence in a foreign prison, the experience of Deborah Dark being a case in point.

    The impression Baroness Sarah Ludford gives is that the EAW is only used for serious offences. That was supposedly the original intent, however it has now been extended to cover extremely trivial cases, EAWs have been issued and used to deport individuals from the UK for possession of 0.45g of cannabis (a matter for which you would be extremely unlikely to be even arrested in the UK), theft of two tyres, piglet rustling etc. To the best of my knowledge the UK has never tried to prevent the deportation of murderers etc. Finally, with the EAW abolishing the protection of dual criminality there is absolutely nothing to prevent the extradition of UK citizens to other EU countries for matters which are not criminal offences in the UK.

    It is disingenuous in the extreme to claim that by opting out of these measures the UK is in some way going ‘soft on cross border crime’. UK liaison with Norway post 22/07/11 is a classic example of how states can cooperate perfectly satisfactorily without the necessity of EU structures being imposed.

    The only shame is that the Liberal Democrats are prepared to undermine the administration justice in the UK.

  2. @Iwantout
    The EAW is not perfect but a massive improvement on the days when criminals sought refuge in countries with which the UK had no extradition treaty and, even if there was one, extradition could take years and be subject to a number of conditions etc. When is Andrey Lugovoy going to be brought to Britain? Answer: never.

    Going soft on crossborder crime means thus that the UK, by opting out of the EAW, is implicitly supporting crossborder crime through its inability or weakened ability to pursue suspects who have fled abroad and, inversely, those in this country which are sought elsewhere.

    What is really at the heart of the criticism of the EAW by those in the UK is the idea that Britain’s criminal justice system (and, ergo, Britain itself) is somehow superior to that in other EU states, backed up with a number of isolated examples of EAW problems which the Daily Mail has taken glee in pointing out. Ironically, once the present coalition government has finished with legal aid and jury trials, British citizens prosecuted abroad may find that they have better means of defending themselves than those available back home.

    Pointing to Norway’s situation is not particularly useful, as it’s a small country whose rate of criminality is far lower than that of the UK, meaning that extradition issues arise very rarely, so Norway can choose to soft peddle this issue.

  3. The Russian constitution specifically prohibits the extradition of citizens to stand trial abroad, so as you say the delivery of Andrey Lugovoy to the UK in the near future seems extremely unlikely. But then this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the EAW or a functioning extradition treaty between two or more countries, it is simply a case of a country making decision to refuse to extradite it’s citizens regardless of circumstances. If the UK was suggesting this as a course of action I would agree entirely with your suggestion that this would be evidence of the UK going soft on cross border crime and protecting criminals. However this is an entirely unrealistic description of the UK stance as you must be aware.

    While I would never claim that he UK criminal justice system is perfect, I believe it stands comparison with any other, for good and bad. Many other countries in the EU have similarly highly respectable systems, but the sad fact is that a significant number of others do not. Items concerning political and financial corruption within assorted judicial systems within the EU both by academics, EU officials and the media are easily found. It is precisely this lack of universal high standards that Lord Justice Thomas was referring to when he described the EAW as ultimately unworkable.

    Suggesting that the problems of the EAW are limited to isolated cases is to misunderstand the points I raise. The examples given are illustrative of the systemic nature of the failings.

    Regarding Norway, it was an attempt to illustrate the multinational approach to the Brevik massacre. It is entirely possible to work successfully without the supposed requirement for an additional supranational bureaucracy.

    Ultimately let us remember that there is nothing stopping the UK reactivating selected parts of the JHA menu with additional safeguards if we deem them necessary. Even ACPO have admitted that the overwhelming majority of JHA provisions have no impact at all on our ability (and that of other countries) to tackle crime.

  4. This isn’t over. The language May used was actually ambiguous and the UK has until next year to decide (the date of the European elections — note) whether or not to accept the European Court of Justice’s gaining full jurisdiction over criminal justice and policing (which includes the European Arrest Warrant).

    The Lisbon Treaty granted a “stay” until 2014 before all justice and home affairs can be subject to EU commission rulings and enforcement by the ECJ.

    When May says the Tories “will seek to remain a part of 35 European policing and criminal justice measures” all she’s saying is the Tories are going to negotiate with the Commission as to which ones they’ll apply. She did not say they’ll accept the entire package.

    Of course, whether they surrender or fight, it’s good news for us who want out.

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