The loss of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) after Brexit poses a “serious risk” to the ability to bring suspected criminals back to Scotland to face justice, a Holyrood committee has been warned.
The country’s most senior law officer said requests made outside of the scheme after the UK leaves the EU could take far longer or could result in some countries refusing to extradite their own nationals.
Lord Advocate James Wolffe told the Justice Committee that even under a transitional deal, “there will be some detriments from the current position”.
The Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf told MSPs that Scotland “greatly benefits” from existing security, law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation with the EU.
“Any dilution of the arrangements we have currently, any stepping back from that or moving away from that is going to be to the detriment of justice and justice capability, full stop,” he said.
“There would be some serious areas of risk – the European Arrest Warrant perhaps being one of the most obvious examples.”
The warrant allows EU member states to request the arrest and detention of suspects in other countries without extradition talks between them.
The EU has said the UK cannot stay part of the system when it leaves in March, but would consider setting up a new EU-UK extradition deal as an alternative.
Mr Wolffe said: “I don’t think it controversial to observe that leaving that regime without replacing that regime would significantly and adversely affect our capabilities.
“From a professional criminal justice point of view, the realistic issue is the extent to which those detriments can and will be mitigated.”
He said the European Arrest Warrant system allows extradition to take place with relative speed and simplicity, with an average time of 42 days.
Mr Wolffe said: “A good example is Marek Harcar, the man who was accused and ultimately convicted of the murder of Moira Jones.
“We issued an arrest warrant and he was picked up very quickly in his home country of Slovakia… and ultimately returned for trial.”
Mr Harcar was convicted and jailed for a minimum of 25 years in 2009, but may not have been extradited at all without the warrant scheme in place.
“Under the arrest warrant system member states are obliged to extradite in accordance with the system regardless of whether the person wanted is a national of that country or not,” Mr Wolffe said.
“Outside the arrest warrant system – and we see it even in the transition arrangements that are envisaged – a number of countries within the EU will not extradite their own nationals.”
He added: “I go back to Marek Harcar.
“I understand Slovakia is a country that will not normally extradite its own nationals, so outside the arrest warrant system a question would have arisen about whether we would be able to secure the extradition of that individual.”
Mr Wolffe continued: “One of the concerns is that because the arrest warrant system is relatively speedy, operates according to timetables that are laid down, that there is a risk that our extradition requests if they are made outside that system will not be treated with the same priority as those within the system.”