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EU countries have refused to guarantee the extradition of suspected criminals to the UK

Some 20 EU countries have told the UK that they will not guarantee that suspected criminals who are citizens of their home country will be extradited to the UK to face charges, in the wake of the end of the transition period. The move spells a blow to the Home Office and means that citizens of European nations who commit crimes on UK soil, and then flee to the Continent, could potentially escape justice.

Hardball or hard-nosed?

The details are contained in an EU notification note that was released on 6 April 2021. Previously, as an EU member state, the UK could extradite wanted suspected criminals in EU countries via a European arrest warrant (EAW), which the European Commission describes as, ‘…a simplified cross-border judicial surrender procedure for the purpose of prosecuting or executing a custodial sentence or detention order.’

The EAW has been operational since January 2004. If issued by an EU country’s judicial authority, it is valid across the entire EU. Post-Brexit, however, the UK is no longer part of the framework. To many this is a pragmatic, hard-nosed and no-nonsense application of reality.

Others call it post-Brexit EU bitterness that could lead to criminals hiding in Europe without fear of being extradited to Britain. Former Labour Party MEP Claude Moraes raised the prospect of criminals hiding on the “Costa del Crime” because of difficulties and delays in agreeing on a post-Brexit extradition treaty with the EU.

He said in 2018: “It is not just that we go back to the bad old days of months of delays, which is bad enough, but as a third [non-EU] country we could face even more restrictions.”

Streamlined arrangements

Ten EU states – Croatia, Germany, Greece, Finland, France, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Sweden – have said they will not extradite citizens who are suspected of committing crimes inside the UK, to the UK. An additional eight more nations have stipulated caveats, for example, that prison sentences will be served in home nations.

The Czech Republic and Austria have agreed to extradite their nationals to the UK only if the suspect agrees to the process. Only seven of the 27 EU member states – Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Italy, Malta, and Spain – have agreed to a reciprocal extradition process with the UK.

A Home Office spokesman told The Telegraph: “The UK agreed to a comprehensive security agreement with the EU, which includes streamlined extradition arrangements. “Some EU member states have long-held constitutional bars against the extradition of their own nationals to non-EU countries, which is why we negotiated a specific agreement which allows for offenders to face justice via another route, even where a country will not extradite their own national.”

Updated government guidance published in February 2021 states that the UK’s new extradition arrangements with the EU, ‘…allows for streamlined extradition warrant-based arrangements (similar to the EU’s surrender agreement with Norway and Iceland)’.

A one-way street?

The revised Home Office guidance makes it clear that the UK will continue its longstanding commitment to extraditing its own nationals who are suspected of committing crimes in other countries, despite the fact that it is not necessarily a two-way street when it comes to reciprocal agreements from a number of EU countries.

The guidance notes: “The UK will, as a matter of policy, extradite its own nationals, providing no bars to extradition apply. “Some countries are not permitted to extradite their own nationals, but usually have provisions in place that mean that although they will not extradite their own nationals, they may be prepared to prosecute them.”

Whatever the reasons – political or merely practical – the true winners in this latest EU-UK post-Brexit spat will be the criminals.

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