Alternative to European Arrest Warrant could make UK a safe haven for criminals, warns Bar Council

5 November 2014

The UK risks becoming Europe's safe harbour of choice for criminals if it doesn't opt back into the European Arrest Warrant, the Bar Council has warned, ahead of MPs voting on the issue. 

The legal body, which represents barristers in England & Wales, has been actively involved in the debate over the UK's participation in certain EU criminal justice measures, including the EAW, over the past three years.  It reiterates that the UK would need to agree a multitude of bilateral and multilateral extradition agreements with other EU countries as an alternative. 

Nicholas Lavender QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said: "The EAW is not perfect and there is no doubt it needs reform.  Steps are being taken at EU level and among the Member States to make those changes, as well as to adopt other complementary measures that will improve its application in practice. The UK can and should be a leading voice in that reform process.  It should also move to implement other related measures such as the European Supervision Order and the new European Investigation Order. The EAW regime replaced a much more cumbersome structure. It has substantially cut down the average time an extradition request takes, while increasing the numbers of fugitives returned.  

"The alternative is much more problematic for the UK.  It may require the UK to agree various bilateral or multilateral arrangements with other Member States in the EU. Failing that, we could be left refusing future requests for extradition entirely, which sends a very clear signal to criminals across the EU - that the UK is the continent's safe haven for criminals. 

"The purpose of the EAW is to return a suspect to their national court, rather than be tried in a foreign court. Remaining outside of the EAW will take that principle away and put incredible strain on the UK's already buckling criminal justice system. The EAW needs sensible reform and the UK should be involved in that rather than being left on the side lines." 

The EAW ensures direct enforcement by a judge in one EU Member State of a warrant for arrest issued by the judicial authority of another EU Member State. National Crime Agency statistics show that from 2009 to April 2014, a number of successful arrests were made under the EAW where criminals had fled to the UK, including 84 arrests for child sex offences, 664 for drug trafficking, 143 for immigrations and human trafficking offences, and the same number for murder. Those same statistics reveal that, contrary to some reports, only 2% of the total number of persons requested from the UK by other states under the EAW over the past four years have been UK citizens. In figures, that equates to 467 out of a total of 22,693 requests, spread roughly evenly over the period. 

MPs are expected to vote on whether to opt in again to the EAW in November. 

The European Investigation Order is a single regime for the request and collection of evidence in another Member State, which should reduce the number of cases where Member States use an EAW inappropriately in order to gather evidence. Another related measure to the EAW is the European Supervision Order, by which a defendant can await trial in another Member State on bail in his home Member State. The UK is taking part in both of these measures.


Notes to editors:

  1. For further information please call the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525
  2. The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes:
  • The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services
  • Fair access to justice for all
  • The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and
  • The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.

The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board.