Scotland could go back to the 1950s in terms of ability to extradite criminals after Brexit

Written by Jenni Davidson on 24 November 2016 in News

Without the European arrest warrant, Scotland find itself in a position similar to where it was in the 1950s in terms of extradition, according to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson

Michael Matheson

Michael Matheson - Image credit: BBC screen capture

Scotland could be taken back to the 1950s after Brexit in terms of its ability to bring criminals who flee abroad to justice, according to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson.

Speaking to Holyrood after a meeting of experts in Edinburgh today on justice and the EU, Matheson warned that without access the European arrest warrant, Scotland could also find itself without extradition agreements that have existed since the 1950s.

The European Convention on Extradition was passed in 1957, but, according to Matheson, some countries no longer recognise it, since it was superceded by the European arrest warrant, which came into force in 2004.


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This could leave Scotland with no international agreement with other European countries, including Ireland, on arresting and extraditing criminals here to stand trial.

Matheson explained: “The challenge we’ve now got is that, for example, I understand countries like Ireland no longer recognise the treaty, because we have European arrest warrants.

“We’ve had them for almost two decades now, so there’s no need for them [the extradition treaties] and because they no longer recognise them, if we’re no longer able to use European arrest warrants, it’s not just a case of going back 20 years, it will be like going right back to when the treaties for extradition were originally negotiated.”

Post-Brexit, Scotland could be left having to negotiate extradition agreements from scratch, either with individual countries or collectively with the EU, in order to be able to bring criminals who have fled the country to justice.

The Justice Secretary also highlighted a very significant difference in the time it takes to process an extradition compared with the arrest warrant.

According to Matheson the quickest a European arrest warrant has been issued was five hours, with the average time taken to apprehend a suspect being 42 days, while the average timescale for extradition proceedings was nine months.

The European arrest warrant was just one of a number of issues relating to leaving the EU that Matheson highlighted were giving Scottish legal experts cause for concern.

He also mentioned Europol – where although the UK’s full membership has been confirmed at least until Brexit, it is likely to be relegated to tier two membership with less access to information and resources after that.

Other challenges include the divergence in laws between Scotland and EU countries once European Court of Justice rulings no longer apply here and the need to get bilateral recognition of Scots law from EU states, since it differs from English and Welsh law.

He said: “What is very clear is there now a great deal of uncertainty exactly as to how the UK Government intend to go forward and create a system that allows us to maintain the optimum level which we’ve got at the present moment being a member of the European Union, what alternative architecture can get put in place in order to make sure that we’re able to still benefit from that wider EU engagement when we’re no longer a part of the European Union.”

Matheson added: “If we’re no longer a member of the European Union then we will no longer have that mutual recognition plus at the same time we’ll no longer be in a position where interpretations by the European Court of Justice can be applied as well, so it creates a whole range of different challenges and it raises issues which are going to make it much more difficult for our justice sector in Scotland.

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