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European arrest warrant

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European arrest warrant

The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is an arrest warrant valid throughout all member states of the European Union (EU). Once issued, it requires another member state to arrest and transfer a criminal suspect or sentenced person to the issuing state so that the person can be put on trial or complete a detention period.

An EAW can only be issued for the purposes of conducting a criminal prosecution (not merely an investigation), or enforcing a custodial sentence.[1] It can only be issued for offences carrying a maximum penalty of 12 months or more in prison. Where sentence has already been passed an EAW can only be issued if the prison term to be enforced is at least four months long.

The introduction of the EAW system was intended to increase the speed and ease of extradition throughout EU countries by removing the political and administrative phases of decision-making which had characterised the previous system of extradition in Europe, and converting the process into a system run entirely by the judiciary. Since it was first implemented in 2004 the use of the EAW has steadily risen. Member state country evaluation reports suggest that the number of EAWs issued has increased from approximately 3,000 in 2004 to 13,500 in 2008.


Measures which sought to harmonising extradition rules across EU member states date from the mid-1990s when the EU instituted two treaties under the Maastricht Treaty which sought to streamline existing extradition procedures under the European Convention on Extradition. In 1999 the European Council further proposed to abolish formal extradition procedures for sentenced persons.[2] However it was not until the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the United States that much more far reaching proposals were mooted.[3] While originally proposed as an anti-terrorist measure the European Arrest Warrant soon became to a wide range of ordinary crimes.[4] The political decision to adopt the EAW legislation was made at the Laeken European Council in December 2001, the text being finally agreed in June of the following year.

The European Arrest Warrant was established by an EU framework decision in 2002.[5] Framework decisions were legal instruments of the third pillar of the European Community akin to directives and only take effect when implemented by EU member states by transposing them into their domestic law. The European Arrest Warrant replaced the 1957 European Convention on Extradition (ECE) which had previously governed extraditions between most member states, and various legal instruments which had been adopted to streamline the process of extradition under the ECE such as the 1989 agreement on the simplification of the transmission requests for extradition, the 1995 Convention on simplified extradition procedure, the 1996 Convention on extradition between Member States, and the provisions of the Schengen Agreement regarding extradition.

The EAW Framework Decision came into force on 1 January 2004 in eight member states, namely Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. By 1 November 2004 all member states had implemented the legislation except Italy, which did so on 22 April 2005.[6] Bulgaria and Romania implemented the Decision on their accession in 2007.

Distinctive features

There are several features of the European Arrest Warrant which distinguish it from the treaties and arrangements which previously governed extradition between EU member states. EAWs are not issued through diplomatic channels, they can be executed for a wide variety of offences without any requirement that the offence to which the warrant relates corresponds to an offence under the law of the state asked to execute the warrant, there is no exception for political, military or revenue offences and there is no exception clause allowing a state to refuse to surrender its own nationals.[7]

Double criminality

Double criminality is a feature of international extradition law by which states may refuse to extradite fugitives if the conduct which is alleged to have constituted a criminal offence in the state requesting extradition would not have resulted in the commission of a criminal offence in the state being asked to effect the extradition.

Under the EAW Framework Decision, the requirement for double criminality is removed for a wide range of categories of crimes, and made a discretionary rather than a compulsory ground for a refusal to extradite for offences not falling within those categories.

The categories within which are as follows:

The Framework Decision is silent as to whether secondary participation in, or an attempt to commit, an offence of the kind listed here itself excluded from the requirement for correspondence.

Another issue which has arisen is the accuracy of a description of an offence as being in a category exempt from the requirement for correspondence, and whether the executing judicial authority is required to accept the issuing judicial authority's classification as definitive.

Surrender of nationals

Prior to the adoption of the EAW Framework Decision in 2002, 11 of the then 15 member states — namely Austria,[8] Belgium,[9] Denmark,[10] Finland,[10] France,[11] Germany,[11] Greece,[11] Luxembourg,[11] Portugal[11] and Sweden[10] — had domestic rules which prevented the extradition of their nationals. Although the Nordic EU members – Denmark, Finland and Sweden – did allow the extradition of their nationals to each other and to other Nordic countries, they refused the extradition of both their nationals and the nationals of other Nordic countries elsewhere.[10] In addition seven of the 12 member states which joined between 2004 and 2007 – namely Bulgaria,[12] Cyprus,[11] the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania,[11] Poland,[11] and Slovenia – employed a similar prohibition prior to their accession.

Under the Framework Decision, member states are precluded from refusing the surrender of their own nationals wanted for the purposes of prosecution, but they may condition the surrender of a requested person on his or her being returned to the issuing state to serve any sentence ultimately imposed. The Netherlands which requires issuing states to return both Dutch nationals and permanent residents, also requires issuing states to agree that any sentences imposed will be converted into those applicable under Dutch law using the 1995 Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. This has the effect of re-introducing the double-criminality requirement for Dutch nationals and permanent residents, as the conversion of a sentence imposed in an issuing state could not be converted into a comparable sentence by a Dutch court if the conduct constituting the criminal offence in the issuing state does not constitute a criminal offence in the Netherlands.[13][14]

Grounds for refusal to execute warrant

The EAW Framework Decision sets out the reasons by which the executing judicial authority must or may refuse to surrender a person subject to an arrest warrant. Many member states have enacted other reasons by which surrender may be refused which are not referred to in the Framework Decision.

Mandatory grounds under the Framework Decision

Under the Framework Decision the executing judicial authority must refuse to surrender the requested person if:

  • The alleged offence come under the jurisdiction of the courts of the executing state and is the subject of an amnesty there,
  • The requested person has been acquitted in a member state of the European Union of an offence in respect of the same acts as contained in the arrest warrant, or was convicted of that offence and has served the sentence imposed (if any) for that offence, or
  • The requested person is below the age of criminal responsibility in the executing state.[15]

Optional grounds under the Framework Decision

Under the Framework Decision the executing judicial authority may refuse to surrender the requested person if:

  • The requested person is being prosecuted in the executing member state for the same act,
  • The prosecutorial authorities in the executing state decided not to prosecute the requested person, or having begun such a prosecution halted it,
  • The requested person was being prosecuted in the executing member state, that case having progressed to final judgement,
  • The act on which the EAW is based comes under the jurisdiction of the executing member state and would be statute barred there,
  • The requested person was prosecuted in a third country, the final judgement having been made, provided that the sentence in respect of the offence (if one was imposed) had been served or may no longer be executed under the laws of the third country,
  • The offence was committed or alleged to have been committed in the territory of the executing state, or
  • The offence was committed or alleged to have been committed other than in the territory of the issuing state and the law executing state would not allow for the prosecution of the same offence if committed outside its territory.

Trials in absentia

In 2009 the Council of Ministers amended the EAW framework decision with the express intention of "enhancing the procedural rights of persons and fostering the application of the principle of mutual recognition to decisions rendered in the absence of the person concerned at the trial". Under the 2009 framework decision an executing judicial authority may refuse to execute a European Arrest Warrant unless the requested person:

  • Was summoned in person and knowing the time and place of the trial in due time and that judgement might be made against him or her if he or she failed to attend, failed to attend,
  • Was not summoned in person but it being unequivocally established that he or she was aware of the time and place of the trial in due time and that judgement might be made against him or her if he or she failed to attend, failed to attend,
  • Knowing that a trial was scheduled, had instructed lawyers to defend the case, who duly did so,
  • Was served with the judgement and told of his or her right to a retrial or appeal de novo, decided not to contest the judgement or failed to request such a retrial or appeal within the applicable time limit, or
  • May request a retrial or make a de novo appeal upon his or her surrender.[16]

The 2009 Framework Decision should have been implemented by member states by 28 March 2011.

Human rights

Article 3 of the Framework Decision which lists grounds upon which executing states must refuse to surrender a requested person does not expressly include any ground for refusing the surrender of a requested person if that surrender would infringe a person's human rights. However recitals (12) and (13) of the preamble and Article 1(3) do refer to human rights:

Recital (12)
"This Framework Decision respects fundamental rights and observes the principles recognised by Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union and reflected in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, in particular Chapter VI thereof. Nothing in this Framework Decision may be interpreted as prohibiting refusal to surrender a person for whom a European arrest warrant has been issued when there are reasons to believe, on the basis of objective elements, that the said arrest warrant has been issued for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing a person on the grounds of his or her sex, race, religion, ethnic origin, nationality, language, political opinions or sexual orientation, or that that person's position may be prejudiced for any of these reasons.
This Framework Decision does not prevent a Member State from applying its constitutional rules relating to due process, freedom of association, freedom of the press and freedom of expression in other media."
Recital (13)
"No person should be removed, expelled or extradited to a State where there is a serious risk that he or she would be subjected to the death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
Article 1(3)
"This Framework Decision shall not have the effect of modifying the obligation to respect fundamental rights and fundamental legal principles as enshrined in Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union."

In 2006, 20 of the then 25 member states included text which was based on at least one of these provisions or which explicitly referred to the European Convention on Human Rights, in their domestic implementing legislation. The others took the view that the rights exist independently from the Framework Decision.[13]

Fair Trials International (FTI), the London-based human rights non-governmental organisation, claims to have highlighted a number of cases which demonstrate that the European Arrest Warrant system is causing serious injustice and jeopardising the right to a fair trial. In particular, FTI allege that:

  • European Arrest Warrants have been issued many years after the alleged offence was committed.
  • Once warrants have been issued there is no effective way of removing them, even after extradition has been refused.
  • They have been used to send people to another EU member state to serve a prison sentence resulting from an unfair trial.
  • Warrants have been used to force a person to face trial when the charges are based on evidence obtained by police brutality.
  • Sometimes people surrendered under an Arrest Warrant have to spend months or even years in detention before they can appear in court to establish their innocence.[17]

Conditional surrender

The Framework Decision also establishes the possibility for executing member states to request certain guarantees from issuing states prior to ordering the surrender of a requested person. Whether and how member states require such guarantees depends on the law of the member state in question.

  • Where a requested person is liable on conviction to life imprisonment, the executing state may make the surrender subject to the requested person having the legal right to apply for parole after having served twenty years.
  • Where a requested person is a national or a resident of the executing state, the executing state may make the surrender subject to the requested person being returned to the executing state to serve any prison sentence ultimately imposed.[18]


Issuing judicial authority

A European Arrest Warrant may only be issued by the competent judicial authority in an EU member state or a state with a special agreement with the EU. The issuing judicial authority must complete a form stating identity and nationality of the person sought, the nature and legal classification of the offence, the circumstances surrounding the alleged committal of the offence including when and where it was committed and the degree of participation of the person sought, and scale of penalties for the offence.[19]

Many member states have designated public prosecutors as their judicial authorities for the purposes of the framework decision. Such designations have been questioned before the British and Irish courts on the basis that in order for an authority to be judicial it should be a court or judge. In both states the designated issuing authority is a judge. However the courts of each have rejected these arguments.[20] In Assange v Swedish Prosecution Authority the English High Court found that:

"it cannot be said that the term judicial applies only to a judge who adjudicates. The differing European traditions recognise that others, including prosecutors, can be included within that term for various purposes. It is therefore entirely consistent with the principles of mutual recognition and mutual confidence to recognise as valid an EAW issued by a prosecuting authority designated under Article 6. To do otherwise would be to construe the word 'judicial' out of context and look at it simply through the eyes of a common law judge, who would not consider a prosecutor as having a judicial position or acting as a judicial authority."[21]

On appeal, the Supreme affirmed the decision of the High Court and found that, when comparing different language versions, the framework decision demonstrated an intention to regard public prosecutors as judicial authorities and that the conduct of the member states since its enactment confirmed this interpretation.[22]


Unlike traditional extradition arrangements, EAWs need not be transmitted to any particular state. The intent of the Framework Decision is that EAWs be immediately recognised by all member states once issued. When a person the subject of an EAW is found within the jurisdiction of a member state and arrested, that member state is required by the Framework Decision to execute the warrant.

If the whereabouts of the person sought are known, the EAW may be transmitted directly to the designated central authority of that member state. Otherwise the issuing judicial authority may seek the assistance of the European Judicial Network in circulating the warrant, may seek to issue an alert under the Schengen Information System, or may seek the services of Interpol.[23]

Minimum threshold

The EAW Framework Decision requires that a warrant can only be issued when an offence is punishable by imprisonment or a detention order for a maximum period of at least one year, or in conviction cases, where the remaining term of imprisonment is four months or more. This can nonetheless include a wide variety of trivial offences. In 2007, a report commissioned by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers noted that EAWs had been issued for such offences as possession of 0.45 grams of cannabis, possession of 3 ecstasy tablets, theft of two car tyres, driving under the influence of alcohol where the limit was not significantly exceeded and theft of a piglet. The report concluded that it would be appropriate to have a discussion at EU level on the proportionate issuance of European Arrest Warrants.[24]


While the manner in which the arrest of a person the subject of an EAW is not specified in the Framework Decision, once arrested, he or she has the right to be informed of the warrant, its contents, and the person's right to consent to his or her surrender to the member state that issued the warrant. The Framework Decision also provides that the requested person have the right to the assistance of legal counsel and to an interpreter "in accordance with the national law of the executing Member State.[25]

Time limits

The Framework Decision prescribes time limits for the making of a final decision to a surrender request. Where a requested person consents to his or her surrender, the executing judicial authority should make a final decision within ten days of such a consent. Where a requested person refuses to consent to his or her surrender, the executing judicial authority should make a final decision within 60 days of the arrest.[26] In 2011 the European Commission reported that the average time for the surrender of persons who consented was 16 days while the average time for those who did not consent was 48.6 days.[27]


A state wishing to prosecute a surrendered person for offences committed before his or her surrender, or extradite a surrendered person to a third state, must, subject to certain exception, obtain the permission of the executing judicial authority. Such a request is made in the same form as a European Arrest Warrant, and granted or refused using the same rules which determine whether surrender would be granted or refused.[28]

This requirement is referred to as the principle of 'specialty' and is intended to ensure that a state cannot seek the surrender of a person for an extraditable offence whilst intending to prosecute that person for a non-extraditable offence once surrendered, or extradite the surrendered person to a third state for an offence which would not have been extraditable offence from the original executing state.

By default the principle of 'specialty' applies to all persons surrendered pursuant to a European Arrest Warrant unless the executing judicial authority indicates otherwise. However this position may be reversed where both the issuing and the executing states have made declarations to that effect.[29]

The permission of the executing state is not required:

  • For offences which could not incur custodial sentences, or which could only incur them as a result of the failure to pay a fine,
  • Where the surrender person was discharged from custody and having had the opportunity to leave that state (i.e. the original issuing state) remained there for 45 days, or left that state only to return,[30]
  • The surrendered person renounced his or her right to specialty either before or after his or her surrender,[31]
  • Where the person is sought by another state pursuant to a European Arrest Warrant and consents to being surrendered to that state.[32]

See also


  1. ^ "EU Council Framework Decision of 13 June 2002 on the European Arrest Warrant (2002/584/JHA), Article 1(1)". European Union. Retrieved 2010-12-26. 
  2. ^ European Council. "Tampere European Council 15 and 16 October 1999: Presidency Conclusions". para. 35. Retrieved 31 January 2012. 
  3. ^ Wouters, Jan; Naert, Frederik (June 2004). "'"Of Arrest Warrants, Terrorist Offences and Extradition Deals: An Appraisal of the EU’s Main Criminal Law Measures against Terrorism after '11 September. Institute for International Law, K.U. Leuven. Retrieved 18 January 2012. 
  4. ^ Staunton, Denis (6 October 2001). "Introduction of EU arrest warrant to cause problem for Ireland". The Irish Times. p. 10. 
  5. ^ 2002/584/JHA of 13 June 2002
  6. ^ "L 69/2005". 29 April 2005. Retrieved 16 January 2012. 
  7. ^ Forde, Michael; Kelly, Kieran (2011). Extradition Law and Transnational Criminal Procedure (4th ed.). Roundhall. p. 18.  
  8. ^ Beken, Tom; Ruyver, Brice; Siron, Nathalie (2001). The organisation of the fight against corruption in the member states and candidate countries of the European Union. Maklu. p. 47.  
  9. ^ Beken, Tom; Ruyver, Brice; Siron, Nathalie (2001). The organisation of the fight against corruption in the member states and candidate countries of the European Union. Maklu. p. 65.  
  10. ^ a b c d Mathisen, Gjermund, "Nordic Cooperation and the European Arrest Warrant: Intra-Nordic Extradition, the Nordic Arrest Warrant and Beyond" 79 (2010) Nordic Journal of International Law 1 at 10.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Made an absolute reservation under the European Convention on Extradition refusing the extradition of its nationals.
    "List of declarations made with respect to treaty No. 024: European Convention on Extradition". 21 January 2012. Retrieved 21 January 2012. 
  12. ^ "Article 25.5 of the Constitution of Bulgaria as adopted on 12 July 1991". 
  13. ^ a b Nicholls, Clive; Montgomery, Clare; Knowles, Julian B. (2007). The law of Extradition and Mutual Assistance (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 253.  
  14. ^ Commission Staff Working Document Annex to the Report From The Commission based on Article 34 of the Council Framework Decision of 13 June 2002 on the European arrest warrant and the surrender procedures between Member States (revised version) {COM(2006)8 final} 24 January 2006, page 13, SEC(2006)79.
  15. ^ Article 3 of the Framework Decision.
  16. ^ Council Framework Decision 2009/299/JHA of 26 February 2009 amending Framework Decisions 2002/584/JHA, 2005/214/JHA, 2006/783/JHA, 2008/909/JHA and 2008/947/JHA, thereby enhancing the procedural rights of persons and fostering the application of the principle of mutual recognition to decisions rendered in the absence of the person concerned at the trial (OJ L 81, 27.3.2009, p. 24).
  17. ^ "Justice in Europe: The Arrest Warrant". Fair Trials international. Retrieved 20 January 2012. 
  18. ^ Article 5 of the Framework Decision as amended by Council Framework Decision 2009/299/JHA of 26 February 2009 amending Framework Decisions 2002/584/JHA, 2005/214/JHA, 2006/783/JHA, 2008/909/JHA and 2008/947/JHA, thereby enhancing the procedural rights of persons and fostering the application of the principle of mutual recognition to decisions rendered in the absence of the person concerned at the trial (OJ L 81, 27.3.2009, p. 24).
  19. ^ Article 8 of the Framework Decision.
  20. ^ In Ireland in Minister for Justice v. Altaravicius (No. 2) [2007] 2 IR 265, and in the UK in Enander v Governor of Brixton Prison [2005] EWHC 3036 (Admin), [2006] 1 CMLR 37.
  21. ^ Assange v The Swedish Prosecution Authority [2011] EWHC 2849 (Admin)
  22. ^ Assange v The Swedish Prosecution Authority [2012] UKSC 22
  23. ^ Article 10 of the Framework Decision.
  24. ^ "Proposed subject for discussion at the experts' meeting on the application of the Framework Decision on the European arrest warrant on 17 July 2007 – the proportionality principle". Council of the European Union. 9 July 2007. Retrieved 23 January 2012. 
  25. ^ Article 11.
  26. ^ Article 17 of the Framework Decision.
  27. ^ European Commission (11 April 2011). "Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the implementation since 2007 of the Council Framework Decision of 13 June 2002 on the European arrest warrant and the surrender procedures between Member States SEC(2011) 430 final". Brussels. p. 11. Retrieved 19 January 2012. 
  28. ^ Articles 27(4) and 28(4) of the framework decision.
  29. ^ Articles 27(1) and 28(1)of the framework decision.
  30. ^ Articles 27(3)(a) and 28(2)(a) of the framework decision.
  31. ^ Articles 27(3)(e) and (f), and 28(2)(c) of the framework decision.
  32. ^ Article 28(2)(b) of the framework decision.

External links

  • Text of the framework decision (as enacted)
  • Consolidated text of the framework decision
  • Information page on European Arrest Warrants from the European Commission
  • Schorkopf, Frank. European Arrest Warrant, Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law
  • T.M. C Asser Instituut: European Arrest Warrant Project
  • European Criminal Bar Association: European Arrest Warrant
  • UK Crown Prosecution Service: Legal Guidance on the European Arrest Warrant

Further reading

  • Hinarejos, Alicia; Spencer, J. R.; Peers, Steve (September 2012). "Opting out of EU Criminal law: What is actually involved?". CELS Working Paper. New Series (1). Retrieved 2 October 2012. 
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