In the Media

Government has failed to justify EU opt-out, say peers

PUBLISHED April 23, 2013

Tuesday 23 April 2013 by Jonathan Rayner

The government has failed to make a convincing case for opting out of the European arrest warrant (EAW) and around 130 other EU police and criminal justice measures in the Lisbon Treaty, the House of Lords EU committee says today.

The government has to decide by 31 May 2014 whether or not the UK should continue to be bound by around 130 measures enacted before the Lisbon Treaty came into force in December 2009. If the government exercises its block opt-out, the UK may then apply to opt back in to individual measures. However, it is unclear how long opting back will take and what impact any delay might have upon access to justice.

The committee's report criticises the government for failing to engage with parliament, the devolved administrations and key stakeholders during the decision-making process. It says promised consultations with parliament have been repeatedly delayed.

The committee reports that the majority of witnesses considered the arrest warrant to be the most important of the justice measures. The witnesses said that it had led to 'the creation of a more efficient, simpler, quicker, cheaper, more reliable and less political system of extradition, which allowed for the return of those wanted for trial in the UK as well as allowing dangerous criminals to be extradited to other member states'.

In 2011 some 93% of individuals surrendered by the UK were foreign nationals.

Lord Bowness, chair of the Justice, Institutions and Consumer Protection EU sub-committee said: 'While it would be theoretically possible for the UK to continue cooperating with other member states through alternative arrangements to the EU measures covered by the opt-out, we found that these would raise legal complications and result in more cumbersome, expensive and less effective procedures, thus weakening the hand of the UK's police and law enforcement authorities.

'The negotiation of any new arrangements would also be a time-consuming and uncertain process. The most effective way for the UK to cooperate with other member states is to remain engaged in existing EU measures in this area.'

Lord Hannay, chair of the Home Affairs, Health and Education sub-committee, said: 'Cross-border cooperation on policing and criminal justice matters is an essential element in tackling security threats such as terrorism and organised crime in the twenty-first century and we need to ensure that the UK police and law enforcement agencies continue to have the tools they need to counter these increasing threats.'