I don’t know about you, but I was delighted when the government announced its intention to take the UK out of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), the fast track extradition process that assumes all EU countries have equal quality justice systems. With few protections against extradition and the obligation to trust whatever authorities in EU countries say, the EAW has been at the centre of too many injustices to count.
And then we heard what the government plans to replace it with – an agreement modelled on the EU-Iceland-Norway Surrender Agreement, which has been described as the ‘EAW-lite’ by both supporters and detractors of the scheme.
EAW-lite would leave people living in the UK exposed to poor quality and corrupt foreign justice systems just as much as under the EAW
There are two types of problems with this approach – first, the practical ones. The UK is supposed to be leaving the SIS II information sharing system, which both the EAW and EAW-lite are built on. We’re also supposed to be leaving the European Court of Justice (ECJ), but that plays a large role in the EAW-lite too. Finally, The EU-Iceland-Norway agreement took 13 years to come into force due to delays around ratification in EU member states.
The second set of problems with the government’s plan is the EAW-lite would leave people living in the UK exposed to poor quality and corrupt foreign justice systems just as much as under the EAW.
The best – or worst – example of EAW injustice going through the UK courts right now is the case of Alexander Adamescu. Adamescu is wanted in Romania on fabricated, politically motivated charges – that was the conclusion of former British intelligence chiefs who investigated his case. Adamescu’s father was convicted on the same charges in the same case after a hearing that was described as a ‘show trial’ and violating the presumption of innocence by experts. Dan Adamescu went on to die after living in foul prison conditions and being denied medical treatment, and Alexander fears meeting the same fate.
Adamescu’s situation would be exactly the same under the EAW-lite since at its heart is that dreaded EU principle of ‘mutual trust and recognition’. This is the policy that requires British judges to turn a blind eye to political interference in the judiciary and accept ‘assurances’ that individuals will not face the same medieval prison conditions that other prisoners face, even though the people giving those assurances have been found to be lying through their teeth many, many times before.
Mutual trust and recognition is the reason our judges can’t look at the evidence in a case and instead must believe that authorities in Romania, Hungary or Poland have done their jobs properly – no matter the track record of failure and deliberate persecution of certain individuals or groups of people in those countries.
Britain is so close to freedom from the horrendous, abusive, expensive elements of the EU that we can almost taste it – but on extradition the government is planning to tie us back into all of the worst bits, using our freedom as a bargaining chip instead of standing firm.
There is another way.
In my paper, ‘The future of extradition from the UK: Protecting fundamental rights‘, published last week by Due Process, I argue that we should scrap the idea of an EU-wide extradition agreement, which by its nature leaves us all exposed to the failings in post-communist regimes, and instead treat the EU like the rest of the world.
We have a well-established extradition process which separates non-EU countries into two tiers – essentially who we trust more, and who we trust less. For those we trust less British judges examine the evidence against the accused (a prima facie case), and look carefully at things like political interference in the relevant justice system. In all cases there is both a judicial process, where judges look at all the elements of the case and make a decision, and a diplomatic process, where the Home Secretary looks at the wider context, including political and security considerations that may not be able to be heard in court.
Applying this process to EU countries would allow us to account for the enormous variation within the EU, protecting all of us from abuses and violations, and would fall back on a series of pre-EAW bilateral extradition treaties. No more ‘mutual trust and recognition’, with the requirement to turn a blind eye, and the UK absolutely, 100% out of the ECJ.
If Downing Street wants to hold on to that feeling of delight and relief that came with the announcement that we will be leaving the EAW, it absolutely must not sign us up to something that looks suspiciously, dangerously like the EAW.
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