What is it and when did the UK join?
The Schengen Information System, now in its second generation and known as 'SISII', is a pan-European database that facilitates the real-time sharing of information and alerts between the relevant authorities in participating countries.
SISII in allows the circulation of alerts and information relevant to criminal justice and law enforcement purposes but also in relation to border control and immigration services. However, immigration alerts are only accessible by member states participating in the wider Schengen agreements regarding border control. As the UK is not a part of these agreements it does not have access to the immigration alerts.
The UK has recently joined SISII and all police and other law enforcement agents will have access to its data from March 2015.
Who participates in SISII?
The majority of the participating countries in SISII are also members of the European Arrest Warrant system and include:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
In addition to these countries there are four other members who are not party to the European Arrest Warrant system:
Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and Lichtenstein.
Who is in charge of SISII?
The Central Schengen Information System ('C.SIS') is held in Strasbourg and is the central hub for circulating alerts throughout the system. Each member state then maintains its own synchronised copy of the C.SIS as its own National Schengen Information System ('N.SIS'). In the UK this N.SIS is fully integrated with the Police National Computer ('PNC').
Each participating country designates an agency - known as a Supplementary Information Request at the National Entry ('SIRENE') Bureau. In the UK this is the National Crime Agency ('NCA').
The SIRENE Bureaux are responsible for communicating with other member states and handling all requests and alerts.
The NCA will undertake its role as the UK's SIRENE Bureau alongside its existing responsibilities for the UK's cooperation with Europol and INTERPOL.
What alerts are available?
As explained above, the UK does not have access to SISII immigration alerts but does have full access to those for criminal justice and law enforcement.
The following specific alerts are available:
• Article 26: alerts for persons wanted for arrest for extradition
• Article 32: alerts for missing persons
• Article 34: alerts for witnesses or for absconders or subjects of criminal judgments
• Article 36: alerts relating to people or vehicles requiring discreet checks
• Article 38: alerts relating to objects that are misappropriated, lost, stolen or evidence and are sought for seizure.
Multiple alerts can be linked on SISII - for example an Article 26 alert for an individual wanted for extradition might be linked with an Article 38 alert for stolen identity documents that person is known to be using.
Is there any verification process before alerts are circulated?
The majority of alerts are entered onto SISII automatically and therefore circulated throughout all member states with no checks on the information.
However, the SIRENE Bureau will check the information for Article 26alerts for extradition and also Article 36 alerts which relate to 'national security'.
What are the likely consequences of SISII?
It is anticipated that the number of EAWs dealt with by the UK and indeed in other members states will increase and Judges at Westminster Magistrates' Court have been told to expect an increased volume of work.
It is clear that SISII is a powerful tool. The problem is not the tool itself but how it is used and the checks and protections that exist. For example, Article 36 alerts appear to grant the police broad powers of effective surveillance with no oversight save for in 'national security' cases.
The accuracy of the information contained on these systems is critical. Thankfully, unlike with INTERPOL Red Notices, there appears to be a verification check prior to the circulation of an Article 26 extradition alert. Nevertheless these alerts will still have the potential to cause difficulties for individuals.
It is important to note that individuals who successfully defeat an EAW request in one EU country may still face arrest whenever they travel - similarly it is possible for further replacement EAWs to be issued even after an apparent victory in the courts. The abuse of process jurisdiction is notoriously narrow in extradition cases and requested persons may be forced to fight the extradition request all over again.
Anyone who is or fears they may be subject to an extradition request should avoid international travel and take urgent expert advice on their position. Gherson has experience in handling extradition requests worldwide, for a confidential discussion please contact one of our team.
17 March 2015