European arrest warrants issued by the United Kingdom must continue to be executed by other member states while the UK remains a member of the European Union, in the absence of “substantial grounds” to believe that the subject of the warrant is at risk of being deprived of their fundamental rights, the EU Court of Justice has ruled.

The First Chamber of the court gave its ruling in a case referred by the Irish High Court, regarding two EAWs in respect of a man referred to as RO, wanted in connection with charges of murder, arson and rape.

Arrested in Ireland in early 2016, RO raised objections to his surrender by Ireland to the UK on the basis, amongst other things, of issues related to the UK's withdrawal from the EU. The Irish court against RO on all his points of objection, other than the issues of the consequences of Brexit. It referred to the Court of Justice the question whether, in light of the UK having given notice of its intention to withdraw from the EU, and of the uncertainty as to the arrangements which would be in place after withdrawal, it was required to refuse to surrender a person subject to an EAW whose surrender would otherwise be mandatory.

The EU court started from the point that, having regard to the fundamental principle of mutual trust between member states, the execution of an EAW was the rule, and refusal to execute an exception which had to be interpreted strictly.

It observed that the notification by a member state of its intention to withdraw from the EU did not have the effect of suspending the application of EU law in that member state, and the principles of mutual trust and mutual recognition continued in full force and effect in that state until the time of its actual withdrawal.

It remained the task of the executing judicial authority to examine whether there were substantial grounds to believe that after withdrawal, the subject of the EAW was at risk of being deprived of his fundamental rights and the rights derived, in essence, from the Framework Decision introducing the EAW. But as the UK was and would remain party to the European Convention on Human Rights, and in addition, was party to the European Convention on Extradition of 13 December 1957, and had incorporated in its national law other rights and obligations currently contained in the Framework Decision, the executing judicial authority "is able to presume that, with respect to the person who is to be surrendered, the issuing member state will apply the substantive content of the rights derived from the Framework Decision that are applicable in the period subsequent to the surrender, after the withdrawal of that Member State from the EU”.

Only if there was "concrete evidence to the contrary" could the executing judicial authorities refuse to execute the EAW. In the view of the court, such evidence did not appear to exist, but that was for the referring court to determine.

Click here to view the judgment of the court.