In order to improve security of citizens within the European Area of Freedom, Security and Justice concrete steps enabling an efficient exchange of information on criminal convictions between the Member States have been taken at European level. In particular, a computerised system called ECRIS (European Criminal Records Information System) has been established and started operation in April 2012.
Stories such as the Fourniret case of 2004 and numerous subsequent studies have demonstrated that national courts frequently were passing sentences on the sole basis of past convictions featuring in their national register, without any knowledge of convictions in other Member States. Consequently criminals were often able to escape their past simply by moving between EU Member States.
ECRIS was created in response to this obvious need to improve the exchange of information on criminal records at European level. In practical terms the ECRIS system means an electronic interconnection of criminal records databases of all Member States, where information on convictions is exchanged between them speedily, in a uniform and easily computer-transferable way. It gives judges prosecutors and relevant administrative authorities easy access to comprehensive information on the offending history of any EU citizen, no matter in which EU countries that person has been convicted in the past. In this way, criminals will not be able to escape their criminal past simply by moving among Member States, and an adequate response can be given to crimes already committed. The system also serves to prevent crime.
- ECRIS is based on a decentralised IT architecture, where criminal records data are stored solely in national databases of the Member States and are exchanged electronically between the Central Authorities of Member States, upon request.
- The Member State of nationality of a person becomes the central repository of all convictions handed down against that person. It is obliged to store and update all the information received, as well as to retransmit all information when requested. As a result, each Member State should in a position to provide exhaustive, up-to-date and complete information in relation to its nationals’ criminal records upon request from another Member State, regardless of where those convictions were handed down.
- A Member State convicting a non-national is obliged to immediately send information, including updates, on this conviction to the Member State (s) of the offender's nationality.
- The transmission of information on convictions is made electronically, through a standardised European format, using two reference tables of categories of offences and categories of penalties. These tables facilitate automatic translation and enhance mutual understanding of the information transmitted. When transmitting information on a conviction, a Member State has to indicate appropriate codes for the category of an offence and the penalty or sanction, which is automatically translated into the language of the recipient, enabling him/her to react immediately upon receipt of the information.
General principles governing the exchange of information and the functioning of the system are regulated in the Framework Decision on exchange of information on criminal records and in the ECRIS Decision.
Member States should have implemented the system by April 2012. A number of technical and financial measures have been taken in order to help them to prepare the technical infrastructure to connect their criminal records systems. The Commission has put special software called 'reference implementation' at the disposal of Member States to facilitate their interconnection with other registers. Member States can also avail of financial support in the form of grants in order to modernise their national criminal records systems within the framework of the Criminal Justice Programme.
Extract of criminal record for other purposes than criminal proceedings
In line with provisions laid down in the European Framework Decision 2009/315/JHA, European Council Decision 2009/316/JHA and national provisions, the exchange of criminal record information can take place for other purposes than criminal proceedings. Further information on how to get an extract of criminal record for such other purposes can be found on the Member State page by clicking on the respective flag at the right hand side.
Already prior to ECRIS entry into force, several Members States (BE, CZ, FR, DE, ES, IT, LU, NL, PL, SK, UK) were exchanging information on criminal records electronically, within the framework of the pilot project 'Network of Judicial Registers'. The development and achievements reached by this project, in particular the IT architecture and the reference tables, were the basic inspiration for the ECRIS system.
Since ECRIS with its principle of centralisation of information in the state of nationality concerns only EU nationals, it is currently not possible to determine whether people originating from outside the EU Member States (third country nationals) were previously convicted in other Member States without consulting all of those states. Therefore, one issue under further consideration is the question of whether to supplement ECRIS in the future with a European index of convicted third country nationals, which would allow detection of convicted third country nationals in all EU Member States.
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Last update: 28/01/2015