Our departure from the EU is a timely moment to seek reform of the European Arrest Warrant

Our departure from the EU is a timely moment to seek reform of the European Arrest Warrant

Today sees the launch of Due Process, a new campaign calling for reform of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) and seeking to use the UK’s exit from the European Union as the ideal moment to change how extradition from the UK works. I’m proud to serve as a patron. The EAW is an issue which saw precious little debate in the lead up to the referendum, but one which for many Leave voters cut to the heart of their opposition to the European Union. Now that we are leaving the EU, it’s time we understood some hard truths about this fatally-flawed system of extradition and the parlous state of the rule of law in far too many EU countries.

The European Arrest Warrant, introduced in 2004, serves as a system for the extradition of suspected criminals between EU member states. It focuses on speed and rests on the principle of the parity of justice across Europe. This one-size-fits-all approach tries to equate the high legal standards of Britain and Germany with Bulgaria and Romania, with predictable results. Several EU member states don’t even meet the EU’s own legal standards, let alone equate with each other and the EU’s commitment to ‘solidarity’ here flies in the face of the evidence on the ground. This is leading to suspects being swiftly extradited to countries with major systemic corruption at every level of their governments and judiciary.

It gets worse. The European Commission reported in 2014 that corruption was taking place across the EU at a “breathtaking” level. After widespread concern, they promised to report back in two years’ time showing progress on how they were tackling the issue. However, after repeatedly delaying the latest report and refusing any Freedom of Information request to release it, the Commission has been accused by transparency campaigners of trying to bury the suspected bad news that EU-wide corruption is now even more rampant than before.

As you can expect with a witch’s brew of wildly divergent legal standards and endemic corruption, there are already a litany of EAW cases that have surfaced where suspects have been subject to miscarriages of justice, unfair trials, prosecutors using evidence obtained through police brutality and where the warrant has been issued for personal or political reasons.

The EAW was originally created to counter terrorism and combat serious organised crime, yet it is regularly being used in a grossly disproportionate manner. According to official statistics, EAWs have been issued for relatively minor offences including the theft of a piglet, the theft of ten chickens, the theft of two car tyres, the theft of a bicycle, damaging a car wing mirror and the possession of 0.45g of cannabis.

The scheme has grown exponentially since it was first introduced. There were approximately 3,000 EAWs issued across the EU in 2004, yet in 2015 the UK alone was inundated with 12,613 EAW requests. Of these, 1,149 people were surrendered. Of those surrendered, just two were suspected of terrorism, with three sought for murder and four for attempted murder. It’s clear that the system is not focused on major crimes and has expanded far beyond its original remit.

One serious flaw at the heart of the EAW is its lack of effective safeguards. British judges are prevented from reviewing the evidence against a suspect and requesting states don’t even need to prove they have a prima facie case i.e. one that at least has sufficient evidence on the face of it to merit a trial.

This has led to injustices like that of Andrew Symeou, who was extradited from the UK to Greece in 2009 to face charges concocted by Greek police with evidence obtained through the violent intimidation of witnesses who later retracted their statements. He was eventually found not guilty, but only after months in pre-trial detention in horrendous conditions in a notorious high security Greek prison.

In 2006, Edmond Arapi was wrongly convicted of a murder carried out in Genoa, Italy, despite never having been there and working in a café in Staffordshire at the time. Italian authorities only admitted they were pursuing the wrong person after an intense public campaign, by which time Edmond had spent weeks in jail awaiting a wrongful extradition.

We also have the politically motivated EAW issued against Alexander Adamescu (noted previously on BrexitCentral), whose case I have personally taken up. Despite being a British resident, Alexander’s ownership of a crusading opposition newspaper in Romania has created powerful political enemies who have issued an EAW for his arrest for alleged bribery, with a flimsy case built on the uncorroborated testimony of a single tainted witness.

Were British judges able to review the evidence in any of these cases, the ordeal they have all been put through might have been averted.

Unnervingly, this lack of proper oversight means that any British citizen or resident can be subject to the potentially arbitrary whims of foreign prosecutors. While of course we need an effective system which allows the extradition of serious criminals and terrorists, and the Government appears keen to retain the EAW, we must not be afraid to call out the serious failings at the heart of this flawed regime. In the spirit of a constructive partnership with our EU neighbours, and for the sake of law-abiding citizens across the EU, it must be reformed without delay.