Much has been made of the home secretary’s anger at article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (private and family life), preventing deportations from the UK (see Rights and Wrongs). Article 8 has, however, played little role in extradition cases, at least until the Supreme Court’s important judgment last month in F-K v Poland.
The court decided that the extradition of a mother of five to Poland, for a relatively innocuous offence, would have such exceptionally severe consequences for her youngest children that it was not justified by the public interest in extradition. This is significant, because Poland regularly uses European arrest warrants to seek the extradition of people accused of trivial offences: bicycle and piglet thefts, for instance. The courts generally consider themselves obliged to grant these requests, often at immense cost to the individuals concerned and their families.
Until now, article 8 has offered little assistance, with the courts considering extradition proportionate, except where there are ‘exceptionally serious’ consequences for family life (a test hitherto almost impossible to meet). The F-K decision is a reminder that article 8 can bar extradition, and requires judges to consider the gravity of the alleged offending and look carefully at the impact on family life before ordering extradition.
The direction follows Lord Phillips’ explicit call for the introduction of a proportionality test in our extradition laws in last month’s Assange ruling. It is a strong indication that, pending legislative reform, the courts may themselves start to weed out the most disproportionate cases.
Alex Tinsley, strategic caseworker, Fair Trials International