Brexit must include real reform of the European Arrest Warrant

Brexit must include real reform of the European Arrest Warrant

Theresa May is not renowned for her civil libertarianism, so it’s no surprise that the government remains committed to remaining in the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) system as we leave the EU. This is despite the reality that the EAW is overseen by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), and the government has also pledged to leave the ECJ. It does make much sense to me either, but this is the government’s position.

Whilst most committed Brexiteers are already aware of the risks inherent to the EAW system, the basis of which is an assumption that all justice systems in the EU are made equal, few people understand just how severe the abuses the EAW exposes British citizens to are.

My new report, published by Due Process, a group campaigning for reform of the EAW, assesses the extent of human rights violations in two key areas – detention and trials – and finds that there are countries in the EU, and therefore the EAW system, that have records as bad as countries like Russia and Turkey.

We conducted an analysis of violations of Article 3 (prohibition of torture) and Article 6 (right to a fair trial) of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), as judged by the European Court of Human Rights. The ECHR applies to the 47 countries in the Council of Europe, including all EU countries, which allowed us to compare not only the performance of EU countries, but also how they measure up to others.

When these violations were examined alongside statistics on surrenders under EAWs by the UK, we found three countries of serious concern. Greece, which is the second worse violator of human rights in the entire EU; Poland, to which the UK extradited 2,499 people from 2013 to 2016, and to which Ireland halted extraditions earlier this year over human rights concerns; and Romania.

Romania occupies a category of serious concern all of its own. It is the worst violator overall of human rights in the EU. In terms of violations of Article 3, the prohibition of torture, which includes inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and most frequently relates to detention conditions, the only worse country in the 47 ECHR countries from 2014 to 2017 was Russia. Over the same period Romania was again the worst violator of Article 6, the right to a fair trial, in the EU. Only Russia, Turkey and Ukraine violated this right more times in the whole of the Council of Europe.

Whereas the potential for serious abuses in terms of unfair trials, politically motivated prosecutions, and horrific prison conditions in Russia, Turkey and Ukraine are widely known, there is a blind-spot when it comes to Romania. Politicians, judges, journalists and most of the establishment seem to be totally deceived on the conduct of Romania, taking the EU flag as quality stamp.

The only country with a worse record on human rights than Romania in the entire Council of Europe is Russia. The risks of extraditing to Russia are so obvious to us all that only one person has been surrendered by the UK in 14 years. It’s time that we woke up to the repeated and horrific abuses committed by the Romanian state, especially since despite international efforts there has be no real effort at reform.

And let’s be clear. When I talk about these human rights violations, I’m not talking about going soft on crime or baking cakes. I’m talking about serious miscarriages of justice, where innocent people are denied proper trials, with no juries, not being allowed to cross-examine witnesses, and judges referring to defendants as guilty before they’ve heard any evidence. I’m not talking about giving prisoners TVs, PlayStations and Pot Noodles. I’m talking about no running water, no windows, no outside space, open ‘toilets’ which are basically just holes in the floor, infestations of bed bugs, beetles and other insects, and people dying from the infections they contracted from the filthy conditions.

If the UK government proceeds with remaining in the EAW system, it must come with serious and careful reform. As Brexiteers, we clearly require reform so that the fast-track extradition system is no longer overseen by the ECJ. But there needs to be reform of the extradition process too. UK judges – and judges across the EU – must be able to examine the case against the accused, and be able to reject arrest warrants based on a lack of evidence. This is impossible right now: if the forms are filled in correctly, the person will be extradited. If the EU refuses to allow these reforms then the UK would be better off out of the EAW entirely.

However, waiting for Brexit day – or the end of the implementation period – is not soon enough. British people are right now exposed to unacceptable risks of abuse, all because of the EAW and the EU’s refusal to do the right thing. That’s why I – and the Due Process team – are calling on the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, to act now to protect British citizens by immediately halting all extraditions to Romania.

Emily Barley is Chairman of Conservatives for Liberty, and co-authored the Due Process report ‘Human Rights abuses in European Arrest Warrant member states’ with Lisl Biggs-Davison and Chris Alderton. Due Process campaigns for reform of the European Arrest Warrant, and launched last year with Graham Brady MP and David TC Davies MP.

The fast-track extradition system should no longer be overseen by the ECJ
British people are exposed to unacceptable risks of abuse because of the European Arrest Warrant