European Law Monitor

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What is the European Arrest Warrant?

The European arrest warrant is a judicial decision issued by a Member State with a view to the arrest and surrender by another Member State of a requested person, for the purposes of conducting a criminal prosecution or executing a custodial sentence or detention order.

Why was it introduced?

Prior to the European Arrest Warrant being agreed in June 2002, if a Member State wished to arrest someone who was living in another Member State, or bring them back for a trial then they had to be extradited. In 1999 the different governments agreed that applying an extradiction process between Member States was pretty pointless, and ran counter to the notion that the EU area was an area of "freedom, security and justice" where Member States assisted each other as much as possible to resolve international crime. They therefore decided to abolish the extradition system, and look at possible alternatives. Following September 11th, the drive to find realistic alternative to extradition, particularly in relation to terrorism, became a top political priority, and in 2002, the European Arrest Warrant was born.

To what offences does it apply?

The following offences, if they are punishable in the issuing Member State by at least a 3 year custodial sentence shall, without verification of the double criminality of the act, give rise to surrender on receipt of a European arrest warrant:
• participation in a criminal organisation,
• terrorism,
• trafficking in human beings,
• sexual exploitation of children and child pornography,
• illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances,
• illicit trafficking in weapons, munitions and explosives,
• corruption,
• fraud, including that affecting the financial interests of the European Communities within the meaning of the Convention of 26 July 1995 on the protection of the European Communities' financial interests,
• laundering of the proceeds of crime,
• counterfeiting currency, including of the euro,
• computer-related crime,
• environmental crime, including illicit trafficking in endangered animal species and in endangered plant species and varieties,
• facilitation of unauthorised entry and residence,
• murder, grievous bodily injury,
• illicit trade in human organs and tissue,
• kidnapping, illegal restraint and hostage-taking,
• racism and xenophobia,
• organised or armed robbery,
• illicit trafficking in cultural goods, including antiques and works of art,
• swindling,
• racketeering and extortion,
• counterfeiting and piracy of products,
• forgery of administrative documents and trafficking therein,
• forgery of means of payment,
• illicit trafficking in hormonal substances and other growth promoters,
• illicit trafficking in nuclear or radioactive materials,
• trafficking in stolen vehicles,
• rape,
• arson,
• crimes within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court,
• unlawful seizure of aircraft/ships,
• sabotage.

Why is the European Arrest Warrant Significant?

The European Arrest Warrants are significant politically in that they mark a mutual recognition, at least between the different Member States, of each country´s criminal justice system, as well as being a useful tool to help deal with cross border crime or terrorism. European cross border cooperation in criminal matters is now highly sophisticated, and all EU countries mutually cooperate in international investigations. This process was demonstrated in the arrest of Osman Hussain, wanted in connection with the attempted London bombings in July 2005.

The Italian police tracked down Osman Hussain after they had received Mr Hussain´s mobile phone details from the British police. European Arrest warrants form part of this sophisticated cross border information sytem, and in this case it would appear that the arrest warrant was issued directly to the Italian authorities.

The European arrest warrant replaces all the previous instruments concerning extradition between Member States, including the provisions of Title III of the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement which concern extradition.

Therefore when the European Arrest warrant was issued in relation to Osman Hussain, the issue of extradiction would only arise if the Italian government had reasons to believe, on the basis of objective elements, that the arrest warrant has been issued for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing a person on the grounds of his or her sex, race, religion, ethnic origin, nationality, language, political opinions or sexual orientation, or that that person's position may be prejudiced for any of these reasons.

Once a European Arrest warrant has been issued, and where the person to whom the warrant refers consents to being transferred back to the Member State that issued the warrant, the final decision on the execution of the European arrest warrant should be taken within a period of 10 days after consent has been given.

The final decision on the execution of the European arrest warrant should be taken within a period of 60 days after the arrest of the requested person. However, this may be extended by a further 30 days if necessary.