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Frances Fitzgerald 'very concerned' about UK wish to abandon European Arrest Warrant scheme

The former Justice Minister said that “if there was a gap”, it could “of course” have an effect on prisoners held here.

Frances Fitzgerald and EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan give a press conference before a seminar at the Royal Irish Academy.
Frances Fitzgerald and EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan give a press conference before a seminar at the Royal Irish Academy.
Image: John Hennessy

FORMER JUSTICE MINISTER and current Fine Gael MEP Frances Fitzgerald has said that she’s “very concerned” by the UK’s decision to withdraw from the European Arrest Warrant arrangement. 

European Arrest Warrants (EAWs), which were enacted in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, are used to arrest suspects in different participating EU countries.

It has been described as faster and more effective than the 1957 Council of Europe Convention on Extradition, and ends “political involvement” compared to those extradition orders.

But last week, as part of its guidelines on trade negotiations with the EU, the British government said that it wants to leave the European Arrest Warrant scheme.

Instead, it wanted to agree a separate fast-track extradition arrangement with Brussels.

How this affects Ireland

It was feared that Ireland would have to rely on the older, slower extradition system if there was a no-deal Brexit, which was of particular concern as around 75% of all of Ireland’s EAW requests are sent to the UK.

Because of Northern Ireland, there would be a particular concern that without close cooperation post-Brexit, that criminals in the Republic could flee across the border to escape arrest by Irish authorities. 

The Irish Council of Civil Liberties said previously that a return to the old extradition system is also complicated by the history of extradition between the UK and Ireland.

“Extradition between Ireland and United Kingdom was a very complex, bilateral system and it wasn’t straightforward,” it said, adding that even before Brexit, the UK was pulling back from the European Arrest Warrant system. 

Some European countries, including Germany, have laws which forbid the extradition of their nationals to non-EU countries.

The former Justice Minister’s concerns

In response to a question from TheJournal.ie, Fitzgerald said that the European Arrest Warrant “is a key instrument, in terms of making sure that justice is seen to be done and that there’s cooperation”.

So I would be very concerned, particularly given our close relationship, given the north-south arrangements, if the European arrest warrant wasn’t operational.

“So it would be very important to have very quick agreement in relation to that as we go forward and to make sure that there are protocols regulations and so on in place to deal with it and that there isn’t any gap.”

When asked whether it could affect prisoners incarcerated here under an EAW, Fitzgerald said that “depending on what the arrangements were in a particular moment in time of course it could”.

She said that “if there was a gap” or if alternative arrangements weren’t made, it could “of course” have an affect. “The smooth transitioning between all EU countries is very important.”

“And of course, there will be a lot of contact between the UK and ourselves in relation to prison transfers, European Arrest Warrant, and so on.”

The European Arrest Warrant annual report for 2017 showed that 207 EAW requests were received from the UK, with 60 sent by the Irish State. A total of 478 surrenders have been made to Ireland since the EAW legislation came into force in 2004. 

The UK wants law enforcement covered by separate arrangements from the main trade deal, but the EU wants a single partnership agreement covering all aspects of the future relationship, with a single “overall governance framework” to monitor it.

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