On 10 November 2014 a much-anticipated vote on the UK's future involvement in EU Police and Criminal Justice measures, including the European Arrest Warrant descended into chaos. The government faced criticism from all sides of the house when it became clear that the paper before parliament did not in fact contain any reference to the European Arrest Warrant and only included 11 out of the 35 measures the government intend to re-join.
The government sought to argue that the vote was in fact a vote for all 35 measures but this did little to calm the critics of the government who felt cheated having been promised a vote on the European Arrest Warrant by David Cameron only weeks ago. The government's position appeared to be that in law there was no need to vote on 24 of the measures, including the European Arrest Warrant, as they were already incorporated into UK legislation. They claimed that the vote was politically binding in respect of all 35 measures if only legally binding in respect of the 11 matters contained in the bill before parliament.
The irony was that the European Arrest Warrant was, barring a noisy minority, broadly supported on both sides of the house. After many hours of political posturing the government's motion was passed by 436 to 38. Despite this apparently resounding victory, the manner in which the measures were placed before parliament has left a residual bad taste in the mouths of many.
The measures are now before the House of Lords in an amended paper, which includes all 35 measures. The opposition plans on calling a further debate on the European Arrest Warrant alone next week which, whilst it will not change the decision, has the potential to heap further embarrassment on the government over what should have been a straightforward motion.
As well as the European Arrest Warrant and previously existing measures, parliament has now opted into a variety of new measures. These include increased measures to allow mutual recognition of criminal law decisions throughout the EU and the European Supervision Order, which permits foreign nationals to be freed pending trial, provided their home Member State agrees to supervise them on bail. There are also a series of new police cooperation measures to increase the sharing of information between the police forces of the Member States.
Many will be left puzzled by the government's manoeuvring over this issue. As the final vote demonstrated the European Arrest Warrant, whilst controversial, is broadly supported by all parties. It has been much criticised by politicians and practitioners alike and has many serious weaknesses but it remains an essential tool for law enforcement agencies and has dramatically simplified extradition within the EU. Many of the concerns over its operation have more to do with differences between the criminal justice systems of Member State than the European Arrest Warrant itself. If we are to achieve reform of the system this can only effectively happen at EU level and this requires our active participation in it.
14 November 2014