As Tories gather for the annual Conservative Party Conference next week amidst a whirlwind of leadership speculation, the crucial issue of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) seems likely to get scant attention. Conservatives should seize the chance to give it the scrutiny it deserves and expose the PM’s blind faith in this dangerous system.
The government’s recently published UK-EU security position paper, which saw alarmingly little examination in the press, reinforced the commitment to keep the UK in the EAW – the EU’s system for swift extradition of suspected criminals. Cooperation on tackling cross-border crime is regarded as a key bargaining chip in the ongoing negotiations, so the government is trying to remain within the EAW while simultaneously committing to leave the European Court of Justice which oversees the EAW system.
Putting questions of how on earth this arrangement would work aside, remaining in the EAW flies in the face of millions of voters who opted to leave the EU to reassert the supremacy of British law, keeps us in an arrangement that is actively undermining British justice and continues to leave the UK open to the rampant abuse of the EAW that we have seen across Europe.
The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, regards the EAW as an “effective tool that is essential to the delivery of effective judgement on… murderers, rapists and paedophiles.” But the problems with the EAW are well documented. A system that was originally intended for use with serious crime and terrorism has instead involved extradition for the theft of everything from piglets to radiators, cases of mistaken identity, miscarriages of justice, and extradition for trials that collapsed due to a lack of evidence only to be swiftly followed by another EAW for a re-trial.
Breaches of basic human rights in EAW cases are commonplace. Several member states do not have prisons that meet adequate standards. Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece and Lithuania have all been found to be in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the past year alone, Romania has twice broken assurances given to the UK to house extradited suspects humanely, with unconvicted suspects kept in tiny cells with as many as seven other prisoners for 23 hours a day.
Politically motivated EAWs are a growing issue. Perhaps the most egregious example in the UK has been the ongoing legal battle being fought by Alexander Adamescu, whose case I wrote about for ConHome last year. The owner of an opposition newspaper in Romania, he was arrested on spurious allegations of bribery in London in June 2016 at the request of their embassy just two hours before he was due to speak at an event about the corruption of the Romanian justice system and their abuse of the EAW system. His family had become a political enemy of the then Prime Minister, Victor Ponta (later forced to resign amidst allegations of corruption), who unleashed a legal onslaught against the Adamescus for their perceived support for his opponents.
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The warrant would be thrown out if this were a Russian case, such is the lack of credible evidence, but as Romania is within the EAW it isn’t required to present any. The EAW’s focus on speed over quality, and its ludicrous proposition that judicial standards are the same in every EU member state, effectively reduces Britain’s world-class judges to glorified administrators with little scope to block extraditions they consider to be bogus.
Mr Adamescu subsequently launched a determined campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of an extradition system which extradites first and asks questions later. Yet nearly a year and a half later, despite every relevant government department from the Prime Minister down being presented with clear evidence of the political nature of the warrant and the Ceausescu-esque justice system which prevails in Romania, there has been no intervention by the government in this case.
The Prime Minister has seldom seen an authoritarian measure that she didn’t like. But even she must recognise that an extradition regime that surrenders suspects to dysfunctional jurisdictions for allegations of bicycle theft, forces British citizens to wait months in inhumane foreign prisons to stand trial for crimes they may not have committed, and which opens the UK’s legal system up to abuse by unscrupulous hostile governments is not one that is compatible with Britain’s abiding commitment to high standards of justice.
The Conservative Party once stood for liberty under the rule of law. Its members must remind the Prime Minister of that in Manchester next week and stop the erosion of our security.
Damian Phillips is a public affairs consultant