October 31, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
How much is a small decrease in our sovereignty worth? I would like to answer that with some statistics about the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).
Since the EAW came into force in 2004 the average time taken to extradite a suspect who objects to their extradition has fallen from a year to about 48 days. If they consent to extradition, the average period is between 14 to 17 days.
This improved ability to extradite a suspect has made an important difference. Since 2009, the EAW has been used to extradite from the UK into Europe 57 people suspected of child sex offences, 86 people suspected of rape and 105 suspected of murder. Working the other way, 63 suspects for child sex offences, 27 for rape and 44 for murder have been extradited back to Britain in order to face charges here. A number of these cases would not have been successful if it wasn’t for the EAW.
One of the most famous cases of the use of the EAW was when the UK used it to extradite Hussain Osman from Italy in 2005. Osman had been wanted in connection with the 21 July 2005 attempted London bombings, was sentenced to a minimum term of imprisonment of 40 years once he was brought back to the UK quickly because of the EAW.
Supporters of the EAW argue that opting out of it means “higher costs, more offenders evading justice and increased risk to public safety” (Association of Chief Police Officers). A study by Cambridge University concluded that opting out of the EAW would cause a “risk that some serious crimes would be committed which would have been prevented if the opt-out had not been exercised and a similar risk that some crimes would go unpunished.”
There have of course been some problems with the operation of the warrant. Issuing countries can use it to pursue people for relatively minor offences. Opponents say that it is too easy for a UK citizen to be extradited. It can be costly to extradite someone too. Eurosceptics have thus jumped on some anecdotal cases to argue that we should opt out. Douglas Carswell has cited the story of a constituent of his who was extradited to France having been accused of fraud..although he had never actually been to France. But almost all problems could be rectified simply by raising the threshold for the seriousness of the crimes involved.
Which brings us to the House of Commons vote that we now know is going to happen before the Rochester and Strood by-election on November 20th. We know because Ed Miliband managed to push David Cameron into promising that vote before that deadline during Prime Minister’s Questions last week. Under Protocol 37 of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty – the UK has the right to opt out of a raft of more than 100 EU policies relating to justice and home affairs. To do that they have to do a “block opt-out”, but then they can opt back in to certain things – and the European Arrest Warrant is one of them.
The Eurosceptics are determined to oppose anything and everything with an “EU” prefix – resorting to simple anecdotal objections against the EAW regardless of its’ benefits. To some their attitude doesn’t make sense – in that the best way to get out of obligations like the EAW is to get out of the EU and the only way that will happen is if the Conservatives win the 2015 election and the Eurosceptics behaviour is making that more and more difficult every day. But I have said before that the Eurosceptics don’t want the 2017 referendum because the country isn’t ready to vote to take Britain out – so they are waiting for the 2020 election.
However, Cameron should get the measure through with the help of Labour and the Lib Dems. He should do so – have a look again atl the arguments for the EAW above and tell me seriously they are not worth the nominal decrease in British sovereignty.