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Nick Clegg: EU crime database used 307 times a day by UK security services

by Steve Beasant on 7 June, 2017

Nick Clegg has reiterated warnings about the threat of Theresa May’s Brexit plans to UK security, pointing to figures showing a vital EU criminal records database is checked by UK police and security services 307 times a day.

It comes as it emerges one of the London Bridge attackers had been flagged to UK authorities after being placed on a separate EU-wide watchlist, the Schengen Information System.

The European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS) allows the police and courts to easily access national criminal records databases across 27 EU countries. UK police and security services queried the ECRIS system nearly 28,000 times in the first three months of 2017 – equivalent to 307 checks a day. Use of the system by UK authorities has increased tenfold in the last 5 years.

Access to EU crime and security databases is conditional on abiding by the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which Theresa May has vowed to end in the UK as part of her Brexit plans. As a result, the UK is set to lose access to these vital databases by 29th March 2019.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Europe Spokesperson Nick Clegg said: 

“Police officers rely on access to EU databases to work out whether they’re dealing with a petty criminal or a violent extremist with a long list of other offences to their name.

“Taking this power away from them for ideological reasons is frankly absurd.

“It is not good enough for Theresa May and Amber Rudd to simply claim everything will be all right. The fact is, their Brexit negotiating strategy is incompatible with continued access to these databases in the future.

“The Liberal Democrats will stand up against Theresa May’s reckless Brexit plans and to preserve vital European cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism.”

Brian Paddick, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson and former Deputy Assistant Commissioner in the Metropolitan Police, commented:

“This is just the latest example of why the UK’s place in the European Union is so crucial to our safety and security.

“Police officers rely on access to EU databases to work out whether they’re dealing with a petty criminal or a violent extremist.

“Rather than using human rights as a scapegoat to distract the public from her lacklustre election campaign, Theresa May needs to address how the UK will keep access to vital EU security databases after Brexit.”

Notes:

  1. It emerged yesterday that Youssef Zaghba, who has been identified as the third London attacker, was flagged to UK authorities by Italian police after being added to the Schengen Information System — an EU security database (link)
  2. The European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), established in April 2012, provides a secure electronic system for the exchange of information on criminal convictions between Member States’ authorities. It is a decentralised system which provides a simple means of sending and receiving queries to national criminal records databases in other EU member states.
  3. When the courts in another EU Member State convict a UK national, they are obliged to inform the UK of the fact via ECRIS. The system also allows courts to request details of previous convictions, and requires Member States to respond. This means that when UK courts are making sentencing decisions they can take into account previous offending behaviour in other Member States.
  4. All ECRIS checks against EU databases that reveal an immediate and serious threat to public security are added to the Police National Computer (PNC). See https://www.app.college.police.uk/app-content/investigations/european-investigations/#acro
  5. UK access to the ECRIS system is managed by ACRO, which publishes annual and quarterly statistics: https://www.acro.police.uk/uploadedFiles/ACRO%20Profile%202016-17%20Q4.pdf
  6. UK authorities sent 108,237 requests to other EU countries in 2016/17. This compares to 9,532 requests in 2011/12 – an 1,136% increase in 5 years. There were 27,672 requests sent to other EU countries between 1 Jan and 31 March 2017, averaging 9,224 per month or 307 per day.
  7. In 2015 there were 1.2 million arrests in the UK, around 110,000 of whom were from elsewhere in the EU. Speedy access to criminal records is therefore essential.
  8. Access to European criminal records data via ECRIS is exclusively limited to EU Member States. Even the four associated Schengen countries (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein) are excluded, and instead have to use the 1959 Council of Europe Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, or informal Interpol channels. This is more time consuming, complex and expensive than the ECRIS procedure. Nor do either of these alternatives require countries to supply the data requested within specified time limits, as they are obliged to do under ECRIS.
  9. The 1959 Council of Europe Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters would be the default legal agreement if the UK were to lose access to ECRIS. Under these arrangements in the past, the UK received very few requests for previous convictions of UK nationals being prosecuted in other Member States, and few conviction notices for UK nationals abroad. Nor did the UK send any notifications to other Member States detailing the convictions of their nationals in the UK.
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