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Matheson urges UK Government to give certainty to law enforcement agencies.
Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Justice has urged the UK Government to opt in to a new European policing co-operation framework to ensure police continue to have access to key data and other resources held by EU crime-fighting agency Europol.
Michael Matheson made the call as he travelled (Friday) to The Hague to meet Director of Europol Rob Wainwright, and see first-hand the work of the UK Liaison Bureau, including the role played by Police Scotland's seconded officer.
Under EU opt-in arrangements, the UK Government must indicate by January 2017 if it is to accept a new regulation on Europol. Failure to do so would mean the UK will no longer be a Europol member from May 1st 2017 with serious implications for the ability of police to share information, and potentially impacting on live operations.
The Justice Secretary said:
"The ability to share information quickly and co-ordinate operations with other law enforcement agencies through Europol is key to detecting, disrupting and detaining criminals across borders. That is necessary to keep Scotland and the rest of the UK safer from the threats of organised crime, cybercrime and terrorism.
"Europol supports the effective operation of the European Arrest Warrant through which Police Scotland has arrested 301 offenders, while 43 offenders have been returned to Scotland to face justice. European co-operation also gives our police practical support and expertise from the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), and enhances their ability to locate missing persons, as well as tracking down fugitives.
"As the Home Secretary said recently, Europol has played an important role in keeping us safe. That is why I have written to her, pressing for the UK Government to end the uncertainty for our police and their law enforcement partners by making a decision to sign up to the revised Europol arrangements."
Mr Matheson added:
"I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet Mr Wainwright and to hear directly how Europol's work co-ordinating and supporting police operations against cybercrime, counter-terrorism, people trafficking and serious organised crime is keeping people safe day-in, day-out."
Headquartered in The Hague in the Netherlands, Europol is the EU's law enforcement agency, assisting member states to carry out over 18 000 cross–border investigations each year in the fight against serious international crime and terrorism.
Europol is currently engaged in on-going activity to support policing operations in Scotland such as targeted pan-European housebreaking, human trafficking, child sexual exploitation and cybercrime. Earlier this year Police Scotland worked with a number of agencies including the Romanian counter-mafia force to dismantle a Romanian organised criminal network involved in trafficking of Romanian victims for sexual exploitation in Scotland. Four houses in Glasgow were raided by police in early April with two males arrested and 8 victims of trafficking handed over to the care of the authorities.
Europol has also helped to co-ordinate action against organised crime's systematic misuse of private individuals' computers to spread viruses or spam. Thousands of victims were identified across the UK.
Europol operates the SIENA network which allows member states and forces such as Police Scotland to request information and intelligence from other states that can identify and arrest people who pose a threat to public safety and security.
In July Crown Office figures showed that more than 500 cases have been heard in Scottish courts as a result of the European arrest warrant (EAW), while 367 people had been extradited from Scotland to face courts in Europe. http://www.crownoffice.gov.uk/foi/responses-we-have-made-to-foi-requests/38-responses2016/1373-european-arrest-warrants-13-july-2016-r013208