By Bob Duncan
Westminster could “jeopardise the administration of justice in Scotland”, according to the Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill and the Scottish police.
The SNP has written to Theresa May asking her to publish what discussions she has had with other EU member states on the consequences of dealing with crime if the UK Government opts out of the agreement on European arrest warrants.
The letter was written to the Home Secretary by Justice Committee member Colin Keir after Ms May threatened to end the EU-wide extraditions that have already repatriated scores of wanted men and women.
Before signing up to the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, the last Labour government negotiated an opt-out for the UK on 130 measures on cross-EU cooperation on crime and justice that had been agreed before the treaty came into force. The measures cover a range of areas but are designed to make it easier for police across the EU to cooperate and also to ensure fair treatment in different judicial systems for all EU citizens.
In a statement to MPs on 15 October, Home Secretary Theresa May said current government thinking was to opt out of all pre-Lisbon police and criminal justice matters. She said they would then negotiate with the European Commission and other member states to opt back in to those individual measures “that it is in our national interest to rejoin”.
The most high profile and contentious measure is the European Arrest Warrant, which has been used in a number of cases to bring suspects back to the UK. The warrant was used to extradite bomber Hussain Osman after he fled to Italy following attacks in London on 21 July 2005. More recently, it was used to bring back teacher Jeremy Forrest who faces charges of child abduction after travelling to France with a 15-year-old pupil.
Police have voiced how deeply unhappy they are with the proposal and have been backed by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who said Ms May was “jeopardising the administration of justice in Scotland” in response to a parliamentary question from Mr Keir.
The Edinburgh Western MSP said:
“Theresa May must tell us what discussions she has had with other EU countries on the consequences of dealing with crime if the UK Government opts out of European arrest warrants.
“If Ms May wants to revert back to the old conventions she must explain what talks she has had on how we will deal with arrests if pulled out of the EAW.
“She must tell us if there will be guarantees in place to ensure criminals are brought to task and if other EU countries agree.
“The EWA system is not perfect and needs reformed so that only the most serious criminal cases are covered by the legislation. Instead of pulling out of Europe’s only tool to fight cross-border crime they should be working with our neighbours to improve it.
“There is a real danger that by pulling out Theresa May will create a safe-haven for European criminals. There will be no speedy tool to extradite these criminals back to their home country to face justice.
“Why does Theresa May want to reinvent the wheel and establish bi-lateral agreements with individual member states when an effective system already exists?
“This move, as police have expressed, will have serious implications for law enforcement in Scotland and make it more difficult for to extradite criminals to Scotland. The fact is police co-operation across Europe cuts crime.
“Scotland’s interests are being actively damaged by the simmering Euro-scepticism in Westminster and yet again we are reminded of why Scotland needs its own voice in Europe as an independent country.”