European Arrest Warrant
The European Arrest Warrant (EAW), applied throughout the EU, replaced lengthy extradition procedures within the EU's territorial jurisdiction. It improves and simplifies judicial procedures designed to surrender people for the purpose of conducting a criminal prosecution or executing a custodial sentence or spell in detention.
The EAW implies:
- faster and simpler surrender procedures and an end to political involvement ;
- EU countries can no longer refuse to surrender, to another EU country, their own citizens who have committed a serious crime or are suspected of having committed such a crime in another EU country, on the grounds that they are nationals.
Simplifying and improving the surrendering procedure between EU countries was made possible by a high level of mutual trust and cooperation between countries.
Since 1 January 2004, when the EAW came into operation, persons surrendered under the EAW system have included:
- a failed London bomber caught in Italy;
- a German serial killer tracked down in Spain;
- a suspected drug smuggler from Malta extradited from the UK;
- a gang of armed robbers sought by Italy whose members were then arrested in six different EU countries.
An EAW may be issued by a national judicial authority if:
- the person whose return is sought is accused of an offence for which the maximum period of the penalty is at least one year in prison;
- he or she has been sentenced to a prison term of at least four months.
A decision by the judicial authority of an EU country to require the arrest and return of a person should therefore be executed as quickly and as easily as possible in the other EU countries.
The EU document governing the operation of the EAW is the Council Framework Decision of 13 June 2002. This was the first instrument to be adopted on the basis of the principle of mutual recognition of judicial decisions.
It came into force on 1 January 2004 and is founded on the principle of direct contacts between the judicial authorities.
Need for improvements
While the EAW provides an efficient way to extradite suspects in a border-free EU, there is room for improvement in its operation with a view to continuing to build mutual confidence in the EU countries' judicial systems.
There is a need to ensure that the EAW is used proportionately so that the system is not undermined by a glut of EAWs for trivial offences. The judicial authorities in the EU Member States issuing the EAW should apply a 'proportionality check' by considering the seriousness of the offence, the length of sentence and the costs and benefits of executing an EAW.
Guaranteeing fair trials and fundamental rights
The operation of the EAW will also benefit the work of the European Union on helping to guarantee fair trials by having minimum EU standards for the rights of people suspected or accused of a crime.
This includes measures setting out common rules in the EU on:
- the right to interpretation and translation during criminal proceedings;
- the right of suspects to be informed of their rights;
- the right to have access to a lawyer and the right of persons in custody to communicate with family members and employers;
- the presumption of innocence;
- the right to legal aid.
Each of these measures will apply to suspects who are subject to an EAW, helping to ensure respect for their fundamental rights.
Further work on ensuring the proper functioning of the EAW
While the EAW provides an efficient way to surrender suspects in a border-free EU, there is room for improvement in the way it operates in order to continue to build mutual confidence in the EU countries' judicial systems. The Commission is committed to supporting the proper functioning of the European arrest warrant through funding networking projects, training and sharing of good practices. Such successful good practices include the guidelines on applying a proportionality test at issuing stage in the European arrest warrant Handbook, which were strongly endorsed in the Commission’s 2011 implementation report.
Ensuring that the Member States fully implement the complementary EU instruments on mutual recognition, such as the transfer of prisoners and supervision orders, is among the Commission's top priorities, as these instruments usefully set-up alternatives to the detention of persons concerned. This new legislative framework will contribute to the EAW's proper functioning and thus enforce mutual trust.