LONDON, January 4, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, announced in December an inquiry into the “human rights implications” of current UK extradition policy. The review will look at the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) that allows any citizen of any EU member state to be automatically extradited no matter what the charge or evidence against him or what the legal or political situation is of the country issuing the warrant.
The idea that a citizen could be arrested and automatically extradited to face charges in another country, where legal concepts like due process and rules of evidence may not be observed, would strike the average North American as a Kafkaesque nightmare. But the 27 European Union member states have all signed on to a program which allows citizens of any state to be consigned automatically to the legal system of any other to face charges under their legal system or even a custodial sentence after being tried in absentia.
The issue was hot in the news last month after the arrest in London of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, after an EAW was issued by Swedish authorities accusing Assange of sex offences.
Assange, an Australian, was living in London on a six month visa at the time of his arrest in early December and was subject to the EAW for his alleged crime in Sweden regardless of his country of birth or official country of domicile. His case was quickly decided by district judge Howard Riddle at the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court. Under the EAW rules, the judge was not allowed to examine the evidence in the charges against Assange to decide whether it was sufficient to warrant extradition.
Lawyer Rodney Hylton-Potts of Hylton-Potts Legal Consultants Ltd, told the Daily Telegraph, “There is no control now, no demand for evidence. People are being extradited to face trial in foreign countries where there is often no legal aid and where they can’t speak the language. And on what basis?”
Once issued, the EAW automatically requires the receiving member state to arrest and transfer a suspect to the issuing state. It allows citizens to be taken from their home countries even if they have been tried in absentia, whether they knew about the charges or not or whether the accusations are even criminal acts in their home countries.
According to the rules, extradition must take place within 90 days of arrest or within 10 days if the arrested person consents to surrender. Before the adoption of the EAW rules, typical extradition procedures could take up to nine months. Under the EAW, a single judge decides whether the charges are “unjust or oppressive” under a narrow set of allowable conditions.
The ostensible purpose of the EAW, adopted by the EU in 2004, was to remove delays and bureaucracy in removing suspected criminals for trial or custodial sentences. But critics have said that it violates the legal and human rights of citizens and erodes national sovereignty, making it nearly impossible for states to protect their citizens. It removes the political and bureaucratic layer of protection for accused citizens, leaving the process entirely in the hands of an often unaccountable judiciary, impairing the transparency of the process.
In its December 22 submission to the review committee, the advocacy group Fair Trials International (FTI) said, “The mutual recognition concept underpinning the EAW is predicated on the assumption of mutual trust in the criminal justice systems of our EU neighbours. However, given the unacceptable differences in protections for defence rights across the EU, there is not a sound basis for such trust.”
Jago Russell, FTI’s chief executive, told the Daily Mail, “Ordinary people – teachers, firemen, chefs and students – have seen their lives and futures blighted by this ‘no questions asked’ system that has failed to safeguard their basic rights.”
It was revealed in December that over 2,403 arrest warrants issued by Poland were pursued by British police in 2010, making Poland by far the largest user of the EAW of all the EU states. Under the “no-questions-asked” rules of the EAW, police are obliged to pursue and arrest suspects no matter what the charges and are powerless to refuse to use police time and resources on charges they consider trivial.
Among the 2,400 cases British police were forced to pursue last year, the advocacy group Fair Trials International have highlighted that of a man wanted for failing to pay a restaurant bill and another who stole a chocolate bar. One Polish arrestee, Jacek Jaskloski, a schoolteacher and grandfather who now lives in Bristol, was arrested in July after it was alleged that ten years ago he had exceeded his overdraft limit on his bank account.
Despite the controversy, the EAW is popular with law enforcement in member states. The number issued rose from 3,000 in 2004 to 13,500 in 2008. In 2008, 515 people were extradited from the UK by the Crown Prosecution Service under the system.