via Adobe Images
One of the biggest but least discussed benefits of Brexit is leaving the European Arrest Warrant. It was frequently cited by Remainers as another clear disadvantage of Brexit as if the EAW was wholly beneficial, with no downsides. This is clearly not the case. For anyone concerned about individual liberty and human rights, there are serious problems with the EAW.
The case for it is easy to make. It allows for rapid extradition of criminals fleeing justice. The warnings of returning to the days of the “Costa del Crime” made for a convincing argument that leaving the EAW could be problematic. It has clearly simplified the process of turning over convicts or individuals charged with a crime to other member states. Extradition before the EAW was a long and complicated process often made via diplomatic channels, and as such was inherently political.
However, the EAW is based on the false assumption that all criminal justice systems in the EU are equal and uphold similar levels of equity between the citizen and the state. This is underpinned by the delusion that the European Convention on Human Rights is earnestly adhered to by all requesting states. Even the most crazed, passionate, flag-wearing Europhile surely can’t believe that.
Not all justice systems in Europe are equal. Some do not operate separately from the state and some are blatantly corrupt. When it comes to human rights violations in detention conditions and upholding due process, there are EU member states that rank little better than Russia or Turkey. When we surrender people to countries with appalling records on human rights, Britain is complicit.
Of the 4,803 people the UK surrendered to other EU countries, more than half were extradited to Poland (2,499). The next greatest number of people extradited was to Lithuania (480), Romania (358), and Latvia (225). Are we confident in the criminal justice systems of these countries?
Romania is by far the worst violator of human rights in the EU and the right to fair trial and the prohibition of torture are regularly flouted. Poland has been found by the European Court of Human Rights to be in violation of the prohibition of torture or degrading treatment. Greece is a serial human rights violator. The Hungarian government fails to respect the rule of law and human rights as it falls into dictatorship, how can we be reassured that suspects will get a fair trial and humane prison conditions? We can’t.
Back in 2016, I highlighted the case of Alexander Adamescu, a German citizen and writer, who was arrested in London in June after an EAW was issued by the Romanian authorities just two hours before he was due to speak at a conference about the abuses of the EAW system. The Romanian embassy had instructed the Metropolitan Police to apprehend Adamescu before the event to prevent his appearance; they slavishly obliged.
Adamescu, who moved to London in 2012, is accused of alleged offences of corruption in Romania for which his father, Dan Adamscu, received a sentence of four years and four months’ imprisonment. Both always maintained this was a case of political persecution.
Dan Adamescu was the owner of Romania’s biggest insurer and the conservative newspaper Romania Libera. After the fall of communism Romania Libera became known for its editorial independence and its support of democratic values and the transition to a market economy.
It was also a fierce critic of the Social Democratic Party, the successor organisation of the Communist Party, and regularly criticised the party’s last leader, Victor Ponta, who served as prime minister from 2012-15. The Romanian government, the regulators and the courts drove Astra into liquidation, followed by nationalisation, and cut off Adamescu’s funding to Romania Libera, thereby reducing its influence.
The whole affair is murky. Proceedings against Dan Adamescu were like a show trial. Witnesses contradicted themselves. He was refused bail because defendants in the trial “continued to deny committing the crimes of which they are accused – as if protesting one’s innocence was itself a crime. Another judge referred to “the seriousness of the illegal actions committed by him”, a comically absurd statement for a judge to make. Adamescu eventually died in Romania’s medieval prison system with various medical ailments.
Any suspect that we extradite to Romania is at risk of having their rights violated. Whether Alexander Adamescu is innocent or guilty is immaterial; it is wrong on principle to extradite him to a corrupt state where his human rights cannot be guaranteed. He will not have a fair trial. He will not be held in a humane prison. He will not be presumed innocent. When an individual’s rights and freedom are at stake, participating blindly in the EAW is immoral.
The UK will leave the EAW at the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31. Negotiations are ongoing regarding a replacement treaty. After Theresa May initially insisted that we would retain the EAW, the Johnson government has indicated that it wants to negotiate “fast-track extradition arrangements” that it says will provide “greater safeguards”.
This was music to my ears. It’s about time we defended our principles: leaving the EAW will bring new problems, but it’s a basic liberal principle of the rule of law that it’s better for ten guilty men to go free than a single innocent to suffer injustice. It’s a principle worth defending.
Worryingly, David Jones, a former minister at the Department for Exiting the European Union, said in in July it is “clearly in Brussels’ interest to replicate the EAW with something that doesn’t require ECJ oversight.” ECJ oversight isn’t the issue; human rights is the issue. We mustn’t seek to replicate the EAW – if we were to do so it would be a dilution of Brexit far more serious than if we had remained in the Single Market.
Alexander Adamescu lost his extradition case and has gone through an appeal process at the High Court. The judge heard his case last week and his decision will be announced in the coming weeks. Now is the time to stand on principle and refuse to extradite him to Romania. Then we must replace the EAW with a system that safeguards the freedom and human rights of the suspect so that Britain never sends another individual to a corrupt state that doesn’t respect human rights.