ECRIS (European Criminal Records Information System)
The computerised system ECRIS was established in April 2012 to achieve an efficient exchange of information on criminal convictions between EU countries.
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 countries. Consequently, criminals were often able to escape their past simply by moving between EU countries.
In response to this obvious need, ECRIS was 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 EU countries in a uniform, speedy and easily computer-transferable way.
The system gives judges and prosecutors easy access to comprehensive information on the offending history of any EU citizen, no matter in which EU countries 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 based on a decentralised IT architecture: criminal records data is stored solely in national databases and exchanged electronically between the central authorities of EU countries upon request.
The EU country of nationality of a person is the central repository of all convictions handed down to that person. The country's authorities must store and update all the information received and retransmit them when requested.
As a result, each EU country upon request is in a position to provide, from another EU country, exhaustive, up-to-date information on its nationals' criminal records, regardless of where those convictions were handed down.
An EU country convicting a non-national is obliged to immediately send information, including updates, on this conviction to the member state(s) of the offender's nationality.
The transmission of information on convictions is made 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 countries 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.
All EU countries have implemented the system in April 2012. A number of technical and financial measures were taken in order to help them to prepare the technical infrastructure to connect their criminal records systems.
Among others, the Commission has put special software called 'reference implementation' at their disposal to facilitate the interconnection. The countries did also benefit of financial support in the form of 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 .
Eleven EU countries (Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia and the UK) exchanged information on criminal records electronically in the framework of the 'Network of Judicial Registers' pilot project.
The development of this project and its achievements - namely the IT architecture and the reference tables - were the basic inspiration for the ECRIS system. The NJR pilot project is phasing out.
Since ECRIS concerns only EU nationals, it is currently not possible to determine whether third country nationals were previously convicted in other EU countries without consulting all of them. This is why the creation of a European index of convicted third-country nationals to supplement ECRIS is under consideration.
This would allow for the detection of convicted third-country nationals in all EU countries.