22nd Jan 2021

EU criminal database to include non-EU citizens

  • Changes in the database were prompted by the Paris attacks (Photo: Eric Maurice)

An EU-wide database on people who committed a crime will be expanded to include non-EU nationals.

EU commissioner for justice Vera Jourova said in Strasbourg on Tuesday (19 January) the change would be introduced as part of a broader security response to the Paris attacks last November.

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“Judges, prosecutors or the police will be better equipped for EU-wide cooperation that will guarantee the security of all citizens throughout the EU,” she said.

Jourova said the update would also include fingerprints to better identify suspects, who may use fraudulent documents.

Flawed system

The European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS) was set up in 2012 to inform authorities in one member state if a suspect had also committed a crime in another.

Without ECRIS, a judge would have to ask to receive the data from the other 27.

ECRIS streamlines the operation by gathering all the relevant bits into a single database, highlighted through a simple search query.

But the database only tracks the criminal history of EU nationals.

It means non-EU citizens can more easily mask their criminal convictions by moving from one EU state to another.

Aside from possibly overlooking broader links to things like organised crime or other syndicates, unknown previous convictions may also reduce the severity of the punishment in another jurisdiction.

Authorities in Belgium, for instance, would not be easily alerted should their non-EU national suspect been previously convicted of rape or a sexual offence in Germany.

Robust cooperation needed

Figures suggest authorities often do not make the effort to uncover the full criminal past of a non-EU suspect.

Data from 2014 shows 688,354 convictions involving non-EU nationals, yet only about 3% of those triggered bilateral requests for more information.

In comparison, some 288,000 requests per year on previous criminal convictions of EU nationals are made every year in ECRIS.

“The Paris attacks in November confirmed the urgent need for more robust and seamless judicial cooperation throughout the EU,” said Jourova.

The ECRIS reforms will be proposed to EU justice and interior ministers on 26 January in Amsterdam and then further discussed among the EU co-legislatures.

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