How Britain pays ?27m a year to return EU's wheelbarrow thieves
PUBLISHED October 13, 2012
A total of 1,355 people were being arrested on the controversial European Arrest Warrant in 2010 - up from 351 in 2008.
The explosion in cases means a significant burden on the British judicial system. The Telegraph can disclose that the cost is estimated officially at £27 million, a figure likely to underestimate the actual impact on the British public purse.
Critics of the warrants said that Britain received an unfair deal, highlighting figures which show that far greater numbers of alleged criminals are extradited from Britain than are arrested and sent to the UK for trial.
Concerns have arisen over the trivial nature of the offences being pursued, and that many requests are from Poland for abscondee prisoners, who have taken advantage of Polish prison rules which allow them to have a break in the course of their sentences, or set a date when their sentence will begin - enabling them to leave Poland while they still have passports.
Figures from the Council of Europe show that other European countries made 6,760 extradition requests to Britain in 2011, more than 130 a week, representing a 48 per cent rise year on year.
But in the same 12 months, this country made just 205 requests for suspects wanted for crimes here, and only 99 were handed over.
In comparison, in 1963 there were just three extradition requests made to Britain - one each from France, Germany and Italy.
By 2003, the year before the European Arrest Warrant was introduced, there were 114, demonstrating just how rapidly figures have risen since the EU created powers which force the British criminal justice system to act on other countries' demands.
The arrest warrant allows any European Union country to request the arrest and extradition of a wanted person without proving they have a case to answer - the traditional burden of proof that British courts insisted foreign countries pass before agreeing an extradition.
Critics say the burden of proof now is too low, and can lead to people being arrested simply on the word of foreign police or magistrates, without any case to answer.
But as well as being criticised on civil liberties grounds, it is hugely costly. According to the European Parliament, each warrant costs £20,170 to process, meaning the cost to Britain of processing other EU extradition requests was at least £27 million in 2010.
The £20,170 sum includes legal aid, police and court time, and translation and transport costs to return the suspect. There is no provision in the warrant rules for costs to be passed to the country demanding the extradition.
However, that figure will be even higher when the cost of processing warrants which did not lead to an arrest is taken into account.
Additionally, because the extradition requests took Britain an average of 93 days to finalise, much higher than the rest of Europe, the burden is likely to be greater.
The Crown Prosecution Service spends some £2 million a year on extradition cases and official figures also show that each extradition case costs an average of £3,200 in legal aid.
When court time, which is officially said to cost £400 an hour, is taken into account, the total estimated legal bill tops £7 million a year.
Many of the suspects find themselves in prison - costing the taxpayer £700 a week - while the bureaucracy unfolds. And some drag out the process by claiming that their human right to "family life" is being breached by being separated from spouses or children in the UK to be sent elsewhere for trial.
Politicians from across the spectrum have voiced fears that the warrants are being misused by some countries, particularly Poland, which generates four in 10 arrest warrants sent to Britain, sometimes for trivial offences.
In two days in court, Telegraph reporters saw cases including a man accused of stealing a wheelbarrow, and a string of people who had absconded from Polish prison while on day release. In some cases they had been on the run for almost two decades.
In their time at Westminster magistrates' court, which deals with all extradition requests from across England and Wales, the reporters also saw a system dogged by constant technology problems, and where even apparently simple cases were adjourned.
Claude Moraes, a Labour MEP who has campaigned for a shake-up, said: "The European Arrest Warrant needs massive reform. We should demand a proportionality test, because the use of warrants for trivial cases has ruined what could have been a valuable measure."
Official figures show that Britain's legal system does not help the burden faced by the taxpayer. All other countries dealt with their arrest warrant requests much more quickly than Britain's 93-day average. For example, France gave an average of 25 days and Germany just under 37 days.
This may be partly attributed to the sheer number of warrants Britain receives, but the figures also suggest that other countries tolerate fewer delays. Two have placed significant limitations on how the arrest warrant can be enforced.
In Germany, a Stuttgart court ruled that warrants should only be executed if it would not be "disproportionate" to do so under German law, particularly if the sentence would be considered harsh under local legislation.
The Netherlands will only extradite a person when the offence is also a crime under domestic law, and requires a guarantee that a defendant will be allowed to serve their sentence in the Netherlands.
Neither country had to use an opt-out from the EU legislation to put the restrictions in place, raising questions over whether the same could be done in Britain.