In October last year, Theresa May announced in the House of Commons the Conservatives’ intention to opt-out of 130 measures of EU criminal law cooperation.
We, at Justice Across Borders, are opposed to it – and many others are too – but the reality is, the way this issue has been presented by the Home Secretary, and has been debated so far, means nothing to the man in the street. That is why we have taken on the challenge to start a debate that can be joined by all.
Yesterday, we met the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, to ask him to consider the implications for British citizens of abandoning measures such as the European arrest warrant.
Maggie Hughes, a mother who relied on the EAW to obtain justice for her son, Robbie, badly beaten up in Greece, left with brain damage, and permanent memory loss, attended the meeting.
Nick Ross, who was Crimewatch presenter for 23 years, and who understands the difficulties British police forces face fighting cross-border crime, was there by our side at the meeting too.
We were very pleased with Mr Clegg’s response – he understands the importance of several of those measures in the everyday fight against crime and how they protect you, me and everybody else in the UK, and in the rest of the European Union.
But we now need to tell everyone that if the European arrest warrant is abandoned, mothers like Maggie will not be able to seek swift justice for their sons and daughters. The murderer of Sarah Shields, a 23-year-old strangled in Gran Canaria by her British boyfriend, would not have faced justice in Spain. The 15-year-old who ran away to France with her Maths tutor, Jeremy Forrest, would not have been returned safe and sound to her family.
Without the EAW, criminals will feel safe to land in the UK, and be sure it will take many years to be extradited to their countries of origin.
If we go ahead with this opt-put, 900 children will be at risk of trafficking and abuse every year, according to ECPAT UK. Many more women will be at risk of being trafficked to and from the UK, and sexually exploited for money.
There will be no intelligence-sharing between the UK and other member states. No cooperation in the fight against cybercrime, including online paedophile rings, credit card fraud, and many other types of crime.
Even if the Conservatives succeed in their removal of the UK from most aspects of the European Union, they will not stop crime from crossing borders. They will not have the power to stop British citizens from being victims of crime abroad. And on top of all that, they will be removing their own men women and children’s rights to access to swift justice and protection from serious crimes. Is that the price we want to pay to satisfy the ideological cravings of a small section of one single political party? I think not.
* Thais Portilho-Shrimpton is Director of Justice Across Borders.