Thursday, 27 February 2014

Sarah Ludford Writes: EU Exit Would Be A Gift For Organised Crime


Ahead of the crucial Euro-elections on 22nd May, Liberal Democrats as the party of 'In' are strongly making the case for Britain remaining in the EU. This is primarily about jobs, but another reason #whyIamIN is that we need to work with our European partners to tackle cross-border crime.

Criminals don't stop at our borders, and neither should our efforts to catch them. Those efforts are facilitated by European police and court cooperation measures, of which the flagship is the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

Would-be London bomber Hussain Osman was brought back under an EAW within 8 weeks of fleeing to Italy in 2005 and is now serving a life sentence for terrorism. That contrasts with the 10 years it took to extradite a terrorist suspect to France under the cumbersome old rules.

Since 2009 hundreds of suspects have been returned to the UK to face charges or jail for paedophilia, drug trafficking, rape and murder. Over 4000 wanted criminals have been sent out of Britain.

Last year the coalition government announced that the UK would seek to remain part of 35 of a bloc of 133 European criminal justice measures including the EAW. This is largely thanks to the hard work of the LibDem negotiating team, who managed to persuade their Conservative counterparts of the need to retain all of those measures deemed vital by senior police.

But reports suggest that 60 Conservative MPs are threatening to vote against the government's package of 'opt-ins' at Westminster. Too many of these objections are simply ideological, with no grounding in a search for justice.

But legitimate concerns do exist about where the use of the EAW has led to miscarriages of justice, including of my London constituent Andrew Symeou. My European Parliament report on the reform of the EAW, endorsed by MEPs today with an overwhelming majority, addresses the issues raised by these cases. It calls for a 'proportionality test' to prevent Euro-warrants being used for petty crimes, and a new human rights safeguard clause so courts could refuse extradition if an individual's fundamental rights would be damaged. We also demand action to stop long periods on remand before trial.

The level of support for my reform proposals in the European Parliament is so broad that I even received rare praise from Conservative MEP Timothy Kirkhope! The fact that Tory MEPs are supporting my report shows how the Conservative MPs at Westminster who still want to scrap the EAW - despite the real prospect of reform - are putting their own pig-headed Euroscepticism above the national interest in keeping the British public safe.

Withdrawing from the EU police cooperation altogether would be a gift to major criminals and a slap in the face for their victims. Liberal Democrats will continue to campaign for the UK to keep a reformed EAW and other vital European policing measures.