What is the European Arrest Warrant?
The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is an arrest warrant that can be issued by any European Union (EU) country for the arrest of someone in another EU country. EAWs can only be issued for people facing criminal prosecution or to enforce a prison sentence. It cannot be used just for questioning or as part of an investigation.
The ‘issuing’ or ‘requesting’ country is the country seeking an arrest. The ‘executing’ country is the country required to put the EAW into action. When an EAW is issued the police in the executing country must arrest the suspect. It is possible to appeal an EAW but there are very limited grounds for appeal. These are:
- A procedural error – the paperwork has not been filed correctly.
- The crime the person is accused of is not a crime or they are below the age of criminal responsibility in the executing state, or there is double jeopardy at play.
- If surrendering the person could be reasonably supposed to lead to a violation of their human rights.
Why was the European Arrest Warrant introduced?
The EAW system was introduced in 2004 with the aim of making it easier and faster to extradite people between EU countries. The EAW removed political and administrative phases of decision making, with extradition becoming an entirely judicial matter.
It is clear that while politicians who support the EAW always quote terrorism and serious crime as a justification, that is not what the EAW is usually used for:
- The UK received 12,613 EAW requests in 2015. Of these 1,149 people were surrendered.
- In 2015 just one person from the UK was surrendered on suspicion of terrorism and one person on suspicion of murder.
- In the same year the UK made 228 EAW requests, and just 123 people were surrendered to the UK.
- Of those surrendered in 2015, just two were suspected of terrorism, three people for murder and four people for attempted murder.
EAWs have been issued for offences including the theft of a piglet, the theft of ten chickens, the theft of two car tires, and the possession of 0.45 grams of cannabis.
Why is the European Arrest Warrant a problem?
The problems with the EAW system are well documented. A number of human rights and non-governmental organisations have criticised the EAW, including Fair Trials International, Liberty, Human Rights Without Frontiers and Big Brother Watch.
The two main problems are:
- The EAW system assumes that the criminal justice systems in all EU states are of the same quality. But we know that isn’t the case: issues around human rights abuses, unfair trials and political interference in the judiciary are well documented. Though human rights are a valid reason to refuse an EAW, many judges are reluctant to be so critical of other EU member states, even when the evidence is compelling.
- British judges can’t question the evidence. Lack of a ‘prima facie’ case is not one of the grounds for refusing an EAW. Judges in the executing state cannot refuse an EAW because there is no evidence and no case to answer, leaving the system wide open to abuse.
Everyone agrees that the UK needs functioning extradition arrangements with the EU – but this can be achieved without sacrificing British principles of justice.
Alexander Adamescu and the European Arrest Warrant
Alexander’s fight against an EAW issued by Romania is a prime example of the failings of the EAW. In Alexander’s case:
- The EAW is politically motivated, following campaigning by his father in favour of democracy and the rule of law. Read more: Who was Dan Adamescu?
- There is no evidence to support this EAW – but British judges are not able to refuse it on those grounds.
- If extradited, Alexander will not face a fair trial, but a serious miscarriage of justice. Read more: Eight reasons Alexander Adamescu will not get a fair trial in Romania.
- The consequences are serious. Dan Adamescu has already died as a result of horrific prison conditions and repeated refusals of medical care by the Romanian authorities. Alexander fears that if extradited, he will meet the same fate. Read more: Dan Adamescu’s death.
Fair Trials International: Defence Rights in Europe – The road ahead
Fair Trials International: The Presumption of Innocence
Human Rights Without Frontiers: The European Arrest Warrant in Question