Lord advocate calls on UK government to sign Europol opt-in

Lord Advocate James Wolffe Image copyright PA
Image caption Lord Advocate James Wolffe said that without the European criminal justice agencies Scots' safety and security would be diminished

Scotland's senior prosecutor has said it is "vital" the UK remains a member of the European criminal justice agencies after Brexit.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe said that without them, Scots' safety and security would be diminished.

Writing in an online publication, he backed Scottish government calls for the UK to sign up to new regulations governing EU police agency, Europol.

Unless the Home Office opts in, the UK will lose membership by May 2017.

The Lord Advocate is meeting MEPs and senior lawyers in Brussels on Wednesday.

'Vital interest'

Writing in EurActiv, he said: "I firmly believe that it would not be in the interests of Scotland, of the United Kingdom, or of Europe, if we were, as a result of the referendum result, to turn our back on the mechanisms of criminal justice co-operation.

"Indeed, I believe that we should remain a fully committed and active participant in these mechanisms - so that we can maximise our ability to contribute to their work, and to their future development."

The UK must decide whether to opt into the new Europol regulation by the end of December 2016.

Scotland's Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has urged the UK government to confirm it will do so.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Europol holds data on offences and suspects involved in organised crime and terrorism

James Wolffe backed that call and said participation in Europol and Eurojust was in Scotland's vital interest.

He said: "Without them, the safety and security of our citizens will, in my view, be diminished.

"The threat posed, today, by transnational criminality is surely too urgent and real for us to contemplate any weakening of our commitment to police and judicial co-operation with our colleagues in Europe."

Brandon Lewis, UK policing and fire minister, said: "The prime minister has stated that law enforcement co-operation will continue when the UK is outside the EU and we will do what is necessary to keep our people safe.

"The government will take a decision on whether to opt-in to the new Europol regulation in due course.

"The UK remains a full member of Europol, and because of our justice and home affairs opt-in, we have the option to seek to opt-in to Europol's new legislative framework. This option remains open to us while we are a member of the EU."

European arrest warrants

Since 2011, there have been 541 cases in Scottish courts in which proceedings were taken after an arrest on a European Arrest Warrant (EAW), which are carried out by Europol.

A total of 367 individuals were extradited from Scotland through this procedure.

In addition, the Crown Office has issued 45 EAWs to bring people back to Scotland quickly to face trial for serious crimes.

In the past year the EAW system has been further enhanced within the UK by access to the Schengen Information System.

That means EAWs are "flagged" on police databases across Europe within hours of issue - minimising the risk that police officers allow wanted individuals to slip through their fingers because they are unaware of the warrant.

Eurojust operates in a similar way. Through co-operation between European police authorities, Scottish prosecutors and police can exchange information and intelligence, and secure the recovery of essential evidence in specific inquiries and investigations.

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