Crime and law enforcement

Many practitioners in the sector have praised EU collaboration, yet there has been criticisms that some policies expose the UK to risks.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris, many leading figures within the crime and security sectors claimed that EU collaboration will help us find joint solution to this shared problem.

Europol’s British Director Rob Wainwright pointed out after the Paris attacks that collaborative organisations like the European Counter Terrorism Centre ‘will lie at the heart of a stronger EU standing up to the threat of terrorism’.

Despite this, there has been widespread criticism that some EU policies expose the UK to risk and that we would be safer outside of the EU. In February 2016, former Work and Pensions Secretary, Ian Duncan Smith, said that staying in the EU makes the UK more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.


The Schengen agreement or so called ‘open borders policy’ means that within European there are open physical borders. Signed in 1985, the treaty means there is: 

  • a common set of rules applying to people crossing the EU external borders, including the types of visa needed and checks at external borders
  • harmonisation of conditions of entry and rules on short stay visas
  • enhanced police co-operation (including cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit)
  • stronger judicial co-operation through a faster extradition system and transfer of enforcement of criminal judgements
  • establishment and development of the Schengen Information System (SIS)
  • documents needed for travelling in Europe. 

The UK and the Republic of Ireland opted out of the internal borders policy, but did sign up to the other agreements of the Schengen treaty. This includes the Schengen Information System (SIS) which is a database allowing judicial authorities from signatory states to access information relevant to law enforcement. 

It also includes enhanced police co-operation and hot pursuit, allowing police to pursue a suspect across the borders of member countries.

European Arrest Warrant 

The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is a mechanism for individuals wanted in relation to significant crimes to be extradited between EU member states to face prosecution or to serve a prison sentence for an existing conviction. 

The National Crime Agency assesses the proportionality and legal validity of EAW requests into and out of the UK. The Home Office is the policy lead and individual police forces making the initial request for an EAW for subjects in another EU country. Police forces also arrest subjects in the UK who are wanted by other EU countries. 

The history of such co-operation, however, is founded on bilateral extradition agreements rather than the work of EU policy.


Much of UK legislation is influenced directly by EU Law. Public services and law enforcement agencies are shaped by EU legislation and its policies and procedures. Tracing the history of UK law, the impact of the EU has been enormous and it is difficult to disentangle one from the other. 

Since 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has been able to rule on any criminal justice and policing matters. In the public debate there has been criticism that the CJEU unfairly overrides British courts on criminal law matters.

David Davis MP argued that the ‘European Court of Justice is moving to a position where it can tell our law makers and our law givers, our parliamentarians and our judges exactly what they should and shouldn’t do’.

A report from the Law Society, on the EU’s influence in the sector, suggests that the frequency of which the CJEU rules on criminal justice and policing matters is likely to increase. However, they claim that such interference is not ‘unhelpful’ and that they are likely to be respectful of the UK system. 

The report also argues that the UK’s justice system has a unique position in the EU. Rather than just following directives, they claim that the UK is one of the most influential shapers of justice and criminal policy.

Data protection 

At present, UK citizens have the protection of the European Courts and of EU legislation on data protection. These rules regulate the way the public sector deals with data. 

Lynne Shackley and Sandra Lomax claimed in 2015 that data controllers have focused too heavily on complying with regulations rather looking to improve information sharing. They argued that as the public sector is evolving there needs to be better systems in place to help amalgamate services. New Data Protection Regulation from Europe has been established to help support this. These EU laws also mean that organisations are able to share personal data for the prevention and detection of frauds. UK organisations, within both the public and private sectors, are able to collect data on fraudsters and share their information.

Download the full report (PDF, 1.9MB)

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