In the first of a five-part series on the legal ramifications of Brexit, Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon explains why we must retain the European arrest warrant.
The need for UK police and criminal courts to work closely with their European counterparts will be as vital after Brexit as it is now.
There are a number of existing agreements and systems that govern this arrangement, and whatever decisions we (the big, collective, WE) make on our future relationship with the EU, the Law Society believes there are compelling reasons why they should be maintained.
The European arrest warrant (EAW) system allows for the return of suspects between EU countries through an almost automatic, court-led process. This means that those who are suspected of committing crimes in the UK can be returned to appear before our courts. Similarly, those who wanted for criminal activity in other EU countries can be returned to face justice in the relevant jurisdiction.
The EAW isn’t perfect but it is a vast improvement on the slow, expensive extradition procedures it replaced. Without it we would face greater delays and there is a risk of the UK being seen as an easier refuge for offenders fleeing continental justice. The Law Society is urging that the government retains EAW, which safeguards UK citizens and helps to ensure that the interests of justice are served.
Similarly the European investigation order (EIO) introduces mutual recognition into mutual legal assistance arrangements for investigating crime and obtaining evidence for use in criminal proceedings. Once implemented it will replace the 2000 convention on mutual assistance in criminal matters as between participating EU member states (and the European evidence warrant).
It is expected that this mechanism will speed up processes in terms of coordinating criminal investigations and criminal proceedings. The EIO is not due to be implemented until May 2017.
The Schengen Information System II is an EU-wide IT system that allows countries to share law enforcement alerts in real time, for example information about arrest or people being placed under police protection. It is a vital tool for our police and security services to work effectively with their European colleagues.
As Brexit redefines the relationship we have with the European Union, we must make sure we maintain a unified front in the fight against crime. Whatever other uncertainty may exist around Brexit, we can be quite certain that criminal elements will be watching for, and ready to exploit, any chink in our collective armour.
Catherine Dixon is Law Society chief executive