ECRIS (European Criminal Records Information System)
The computerised system ECRIS was established in April 2012 to create an efficient exchange of information on criminal convictions between Member States.
Examples such as the Fourniret case of 2004 and numerous subsequent studies have demonstrated that national courts frequently pass sentences on the sole basis of past convictions featuring in their national register, without any knowledge of convictions in other Member States. Consequently, criminals were often able to escape their criminal past simply by moving to another Member State.
ECRIS has been created to improve the exchange of information on criminal records throughout the EU. It establishes an electronic interconnection of criminal records databases to ensure that information on convictions is exchanged between Member States in a uniform, speedy and easily computer-transferable way.
The system provides judges and prosecutors with easy access to comprehensive information on the criminal history of persons concerned, no matter in which Member States that person has been convicted in the past. Through removing the possibility for offenders to escape their criminal past simply by moving from one EU country to another, the system could also serve to prevent crime.
ECRIS is a decentralised system: criminal records data is stored solely in national databases and exchanged electronically between the central authorities of the Member States upon request.
The Member State of nationality of a person is the central repository of all convictions handed down to that person – regardless of the convicting Member State. Convicting Member States must notify convictions regarding a person of another EU Member State to the authorities of that Member State. The Member State's authorities must store and update all information received and retransmit them when requested. As a result, each Member State is in the position to provide for its nationals exhaustive, up-to-date information from its criminal records regardless of where those convictions were handed down.
The information on convictions is transmitted electronically, through a standardised European format, using two reference tables listing categories of offences and penalties. These tables facilitate automatic translation and enhance mutual understanding of the information transmitted.
When transmitting information on a conviction, EU Member States have to indicate appropriate codes for the category of the offence and the penalty or sanction, which is automatically translated into the language of the recipients, enabling them to react immediately upon receipt of the information.
The large majority of EU Member States have implemented the system in April 2012. The Commission supported Member States by a number of technical and financial measures to set up the technical infrastructure and to connect Member States' criminal records systems.
Among others, the Commission has put special software called 'reference implementation' at Member States' disposal to facilitate the interconnection. Member States also benefitted from European grants to modernise their national criminal records systems.
General principles governing the exchange of information and the functioning of the system are regulated in the Framework Decision on exchange of information on criminal records and in the Decision on the establishment of ECRIS.
The scope for the use of grants is regulated through the Criminal Justice Programme.
ECRIS works efficiently with regard to EU-nationals. However, it is currently not possible to determine whether third country nationals were previously convicted in other Member States without consulting them all. This is why the creation of a European index of convicted third-country nationals to supplement ECRIS is under consideration. A European index would allow for the efficient identification of Member State(s) storing convictions against a person concerned.