Call for reforms to give North East police more time to fight crime

The government should act to ensure that police officers in the North East of England do not have to waste their time dealing with spurious arrest warrants issued in another EU country.

That’s the message from North East Euro-MP Stephen Hughes, ahead of a key debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday.

Stephen Hughes is concerned that European arrest warrants, introduced in 2004 to help speed up the extradition of suspects in serious criminal cases, have resulted in police spending too much time chasing people accused of petty crimes abroad.

Mr Hughes has joined with other Labour MEPs to call on the government to strike an agreement with other European countries to ensure that the warrants, which are issued in one EU country for the arrest and fast-track extradition of a suspect in another, are used only for the most serious cases.

Stephen explained: “I don't want police in North East England who are already under pressure because of government cuts, to have to spend valuable time finding someone wanted in Poland for stealing a bicycle.

“European arrest warrants have made it easier for us to bring people accused of serious crimes to justice quickly. But their use for petty criminals and minor misdemeanours will actually undermine the police's ability to fight more serious offences.

“Some countries have been applying the warrants in cases for which they were never intended. They were introduced to help us in the fight against murder, terrorism and rape, not low-level theft that in this country would normally just result in a caution at the most."

Labour MEPs support the idea of the arrest warrants, which have resulted in the return of dozens of serious criminals from Spain. However, they want to see agreement between national governments that a proportionality test will be applied, to ensure that they are only used in the most serious cases.

Campaigners for reform have cited a number of examples that would not pass that test but where warrants have been issued, including bicycle theft, pig rustling, the theft of wardrobe doors and going over an overdraft limit.

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

More information about European Arrest Warrants can be found at: http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/11/454&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

Fair Trials International has been campaigning for reform of the Arrest Warrant system. More information can be found at:

http://www.fairtrials.net/campaigns/the_arrest_warrant

In addition to cracking down on spurious warrants, Labour MEPs also want governments to move quickly to ensure that other basic rights are also put in place for people facing criminal action abroad, such as the right to interpretation and translation