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16th Dec 2017

EU arrest warrant not for 'bicycle thieves'

  • Warrants should not be used for bicycle thieves, says Reding (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU arrest warrants are useful tools to catch drug smugglers, murderers and rapists, but member states should refrain from using them for petty criminals such as 'bicycle thieves,' justice commissioner Viviane Reding has said.

"The European arrest warrant is an important tool to catch criminals, but member sates should ensure that it is used correctly … not issued mechanically for crimes that are not very serious such as bicycle theft," Reding said in a press statement on Monday (11 April).

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Her remarks were published on the eve of a meeting with justice ministers in Luxembourg to discuss the creation of a controversial new "EU investigation order" to allow prosecutors and police to share evidence across borders.

"The UK is in the lead on this, but a lot of countries are very reluctant," an EU diplomat told this website. France, for instance, is supportive of the new scheme, but similarly to the EU arrest warrant, it wants it to be used "only for important things, not petty crimes," the source said.

Last year, Britain teamed up with seven other member states to propose the scheme, which would allow policemen in a given member state to investigate a suspect flagged up by fellow EU country.

Based on the experience of the EU arrest warrant, civil rights groups fear that the new protocol would create room for abuses, with people being spied on for undisclosed reasons.

The EU arrest warrant, in force since 2004, is one of the bloc's big success stories.

It has led to the apprehension of a failed London bomber caught in Italy, a German serial killer tracked down in Spain and a gang of armed robbers sought by Italy whose members were then arrested in six different EU countries.

But it has also been heavily criticised by human rights groups.

Poland, the Czech Republic and Lithuania, where the law applying the warrant does not limit it to major crimes and contains no "proportionality tests," have taken the most flak.

According to Fair Trials, a UK advocacy group fighting for the rights of people extradited and jailed in other countries, a retired British schoolteacher and grandfather is currently facing extradition to Poland for going over his bank overdraft limit more than 10 years ago.

The entire debt was repaid to the bank but he is still being sought to face trial for "theft", even though he has suffered three strokes and is in fragile health.

Figures published by the EU commission on Monday shows that Poland is the most eager to issue the warrants, with 4,844 put out in 2009 compared to the UK's 220. In total, member states issued 54,689 European arrest warrants between 2005 and 2009, leading to 11,630 suspects being surrendered.

"Time will tell whether this is enough to stop the excessive use of this tick-box system by some countries. Urgent steps are needed to reform the European arrest warrant, to make sure it fights serious cross-border crime effectively without compromising fundamental rights in the process," Catherine Head from Fair Trials said in a press statement.

The EU commission will table legislative proposals by the end of this year to step up training for police, prosecutors and judges on the arrest warrant "to ensure consistency and effectiveness" and to avoid abuses such as the ones flagged up by Fair Trials.

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