In 2012 the EU decided to create this pretty cool computerized system called ECRIS aka European Criminal Records Information System. It’s basically a system for EU countries to communicate with each other about criminal convictions of EU citizens in other countries than their own. Let’s go for a real life example here to make it easier: Bad French person committing crime in Spain and later in Sweden. Swedish authorities could easily check whether bad French person was previously bad and could adjust the punishment in Sweden accordingly.
ECRIS works well for these exchanges of information about criminal records of EU citizens. However, the system is not set up in a way that e.g. a Spanish judge could check whether an U.S. American citizen (aka third-country national), who is accused of manslaughter in Spain, has already been convicted of similar crimes anywhere else in Europe. In order to do that the judge would have to sask ALL 28 administrations to check their files. This procedure was not used a lot these days because it is very time-consuming for national administrations. As a consequence, criminals were often able to ‘escape’ their criminal past simply by moving to another Member State.
With the recent terrorist attacks the system showed its flaws and the EU Commission decided it needed some serious overhauling in order to have a properly functioning common area of justice and security and to fight cross-border terrorism.
National authorities might be able to combat organized crime better or identify links to terrorist organizations by having more efficient access to criminal background information about an accused person. Additionally, the EU Commission says that the main purpose of ECRIS is to “ensure the safety of citizens by preventing crime through effective judicial cooperation”. Plus: Non-EU citizens could benefit from this stronger cooperation by being able to prove a clean criminal record, e.g. when job-hunting in an EU Member State. Some very informative FAQs on ECRIS.
The proposal will basically add some legislation on exchange of criminal record information of third country nationals in order to reduce crime and to make sure to prevent terrorist attacks as much as possible through early information exchange in criminal matters. EU Member States will now have to store the criminal records of third-country nationals (together with the nationality of the convicted as well as fingerprints) and update this database regularly.
To come back to our real life example: Instead of having to ask 28 other states our judge in Spain will be able to enter the name (or finger print for that matter) of an accused third-country national in Spain and – in case the accused person has been convicted previously anywhere in the EU – the ECRIS system will tell the judge which EU country has records on this misbehaving fellow. The Spanish judge then needs to contact only this ONE country instead of having to try his luck with 28 different legal administrations.
The proposal is handled in the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament who agreed on its position in June 2016. The Council also already agreed a negotiation position and the talks between the institutions are currently ongoing.
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