The European Arrest Warrant has come under much discussion in the UK media following the arrest of Julien Assange, the founder of Wikileaks. Main arguments against the EAW surround the topic of the quantity of EAW’s being issued to the UK in comparison to the number received by other Members States and the apparent lack of judicial authority to decide on the proportionality of the crime.
The European Arrest Warrant was established after the “Tampere European Council of 15-16 October 1999 called on Member States to make the principle of mutual recognition the cornerstone of a true European law-enforcement area.” The EAW replaced the extradition system that was in place and required that “each national judicial authority” recognised requests for the “surrender of a person made by the judicial authority of another Member State” with minimum formalities.
However, Member States are still able to form bilateral or multilateral agreements with other Member States in order to simply or facilitate the process further.
There are also judicial safeguards to EAW. Each Member State may refuse to execute a European arrest warrant if:
• final judgment has already been passed by a Member State upon the requested person in respect of the same offence (ne bis in idem principle);
• the offence is covered by an amnesty in the executing Member State;
• the person concerned may not be held criminally responsible by the executing State owing to his/her age.
In relation to the current case of Julian Assange, refusal to extradite him could take place on the grounds that the motive for the EAW is purely a political one.
The UK has refused extradition in the past on these grounds. These examples are not exhaustive of the qualifying grounds to refuse extradition under an EAW, however, in each case the grounds for refusal have to be given.
The European Arrest Warrant allows for the enhanced ability to pursue justice in the European Union. The EU has progressively decreased its internal borders and facilitated the free movement of European citizens. However it is simultaneously easier for criminals to operate across the Member States . Therefore, in order to give the criminal and law agencies sufficient power, their actions must be coordinated across the EU.
In order to better tackle this challenge of international crime, the EU is progressing toward a single area of justice.
The Amsterdam Treaty officially states that the creation of a common area of freedom, security and justice is an aim of the EU. EU Member States have agreed to “approximate the definition of offences and the level of sanctions for certain type of offences” and ensure “mutual recognition of decisions taken by national judges” . These actions are enabling the EU to be perceived as a specific partner on judicial cooperation in the international scene.
“While developing its activities in those directions, the EU has carefully insisted on ensuring a high protection of individual’s rights which characterise highly demanding democracies. ”
The European Arrest Warrant, a step in the direction of an EU area of justice, has recently been discussed widely in the UK media and at least citizens are becoming aware of the topic. However there are severe, basic misunderstandings in the reports. What is needed now is journalism that is more informed. Criticism and accountability is needed, however, real accountability can only be achieved when the citizens are given the right information to truly understand the EAW. The information is already there; it needs to be coherently and accurately communicated.