European Arrest Warrant: I’m a sceptic (but not a Eurosceptic)

by Stephen Tall on November 10, 2014

As I write, the House of Commons is debating the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

Well, sort of. In fact, the Speaker, John Bercow, has already pointed out that “there will not today be a vote on the specific matter of membership of the European arrest warrant”. But Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling say there will. In the Tories’ Alice in Wonderland world, when they use the word vote it means just what they choose it to mean, neither more nor less.

As with any debate involving Europe, there is a danger of it being used as a proxy for the wider in/out debate. Tories are largely against the EAW. Because Europe. Lib Dems and Labour are largely for the EAW. Because Europe. However, you don’t have to buy into the Tories Euroscepticism to be an EAW-sceptic.

Indeed, much kudos for the reforms to the EAW the Government has introduced should be given to the Lib Dems’ Sarah Ludford who, as an MEP, successfully championed the reform of the EAW, noting earlier this year:

“In the ten years since it came into force the warrant has become a vital tool in the fight against crime, enabling hundreds of Britain’s most-wanted criminals to be brought to justice. To abandon it would be would be a gift to criminals and a slap in the face for their victims. However, there remain serious concerns over a number of cases that have led to serious miscarriages of justice, and the warrant is sometimes used disproportionately to extradite suspects for petty crimes or as an investigative fishing tool for cases that are not ready for trial.”

However, it’s not clear that these have yet gone far enough. Here, for instance, is director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, highlighting her concerns:

Now is a good time to remind ourselves of the real injustice the EAW, in its current form, creates. Take the case of Andrew Symeou, a British student extradited to Greece in 2009. Serious doubts emerged about the reliability of the evidence against Symeou and he was ultimately acquitted of manslaughter, but not before spending 10 months in appalling prison conditions away from his friends and family. The case against him was fundamentally flawed, but our courts were powerless to prevent the extradition. The same is true of Garry Mann, the former fireman extradited to Portugal in 2010 following a trial described by British judges as an embarrassment and a violation of his right to a fair trial.

If the Government had succeeded in reforming the system to prevent such abuses, that would be fine. But it hasn’t, says Shami:

Liberty has long called for reform of EU extradition arrangements as part of our wider campaign against unfair, summary extradition. We have never argued that the warrant should be dropped, but we have consistently called for greater safeguards to allow a balance to be struck between the broad public interest in effective extradition and the protection of basic rights and freedoms. Among the protections we have sought is a requirement that a basic or prima facie case be made in a domestic court before a British resident is extradited. We are not alone in calling for change: earlier this year the European parliament adopted a resolution setting out essential reforms to the EAW.

But for all the prime minister’s talk of renegotiation and improvement, the EAW system remains unchanged. To give the government its due, it has inserted two safeguards into domestic law on extraditions within the EU. Liberty welcomed these measures, which are aimed at preventing disproportionate extraditions and the lengthy pre-trial detention of British residents. These are important protections, but they are unilateral changes not necessarily reflected in the EAW system. What is more, the government has given with one hand and taken away with the other by introducing legislation scrapping the automatic right of appeal against extradition to countries in the EU.

There are, it seems, serious concerns still about the EAW: not the principle, but the practice. That it emanates from Europe, that the public backs it, are not in themselves reasons to back the EAW if it can still cause injustice. I hope we’ll hear from the Lib Dems in the Commons tonight how the reformed EAW our MPs will be backing addresses this.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.