Northern Ireland

European Arrest Warrant 'vital' - NI Justice Minister David Ford

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Media captionSpeaker John Bercow oversaw angry scenes in the Commons, reports Ben Wright

The European Arrest Warrant is "vitally necessary to fight serious crime and terrorism", Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford has said.

The government has won its bid to re-sign the UK to 35 EU justice measures, including the controversial warrant.

However, Labour and backbench Tory MPs were angered they were not given a vote on the warrant itself.

Mr Ford said extradition powers between the UK and Republic of Ireland would have been lost if it was not restored.

Supporters of the warrant, including the government and law enforcement agencies, say it is a vital tool to protect the UK and bring criminals to justice across EU borders.

However, critics - including some Conservative MPs - say it is overused and a threat to the liberties of Britons and the sovereignty of the UK.

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Image caption An RUC checkpoint for extradition of prisoner in 1988

Mr Ford said that as the old Irish extradition legislation had lapsed, "the only arrangement we have is based on the European Arrest Warrant".

"Within these islands, it has been used to fight serious crime and terrorism, and it has been extremely successful", he said.

While extradition between the two jurisdictions had caused significant problems in the past, Mr Ford said it "now happens with no problems whatsoever".

European Arrest Warrants

  • The European Arrest Warrant operates EU-wide and replaced separate extradition arrangements between the EU member states
  • It was introduced in January 2004, and was prompted by the international anti-terror drive after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States
  • A national judicial authority, such as a court, can issue an EU warrant to get a suspect extradited
  • For a warrant to be valid, the suspect must be accused of an offence incurring a maximum penalty of at least a year in prison, or must have been already sentenced to at least four months in prison

Q&A: European Arrest Warrant

Some Conservative backbenchers accused ministers of being "sly" and "underhand" over the issue, while Labour will use an opposition day debate on 19 November to discuss and vote upon the arrest warrant.

Commons clashes

The row comes after the government opted out of all 133 EU police and criminal justice measures measures in 2013, a decision that will take effect on 1 December.

However, ministers plan to rejoin 35 of the measures, including the European Arrest Warrant, before that deadline.

Commons clashes erupted on Monday after Speaker John Bercow ruled the debate and vote on the measures would not cover the arrest warrant.

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Image caption David Cameron, pictured conversing with an aide, left the Lord Mayor's Banquet to vote

Home Secretary Theresa May said only 11 of the EU justice measures needed to be voted on and "transposed" into UK law.

She told MPs that the Commons' verdict on the 11 measures would be treated as a vote on the whole package of 35.

But the debate came to an abrupt end when shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper invoked a rare procedure, calling for Mrs May to come back with a motion that specifically included the warrant.

Faced with a potential backbench rebellion, Prime Minister David Cameron returned early from the Lord Mayor's Banquet dressed in a white dress tie, while other Tories were urgently rushed back to Parliament to take part in the vote.

After Mrs Cooper's motion was defeated by 272 to 229 - a majority of just 43 - the vote on the EU justice measures took place immediately - something backed by Labour - with MPs voting in favour by 464 to 38.

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