The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is an arrest warrant valid throughout all member states of the European Union (EU). Once issued, it requires another member state to arrest and transfer a criminal suspect or sentenced person to the issuing state so that the person can be put on trial or complete a detention period.
An EAW can only be issued for the purposes of conducting a criminal prosecution (not merely an investigation), or enforcing a custodial sentence. It can only be issued for offences carrying a maximum penalty of 12 months or more. Where sentence has already been passed an EAW can only be issued if the prison term to be enforced is at least four months long.
The introduction of the EAW system was intended to increase the speed and ease of extradition throughout EU countries by removing the political and administrative phases of decision-making which had characterised the previous system of extradition in Europe, and converting the process into a system run entirely by the judiciary. Since it was first implemented in 2004 the use of the EAW has steadily risen. Member state country evaluation reports suggest that the number of EAWs issued has increased from approximately 3,000 in 2004 to 13,500 in 2008.