Contrary to popular belief, things can move quickly in extradition. Two contrasting proposals for reform, one passing unnoticed last week, the other lying dormant, could lead to significant changes for those facing forced removal from Britain to stand trial abroad.
Extradition should not be rushed. Those facing the trauma of extradition from Britain are frequently people with jobs and families, plucked out of their lives to be transported against their will to another country with a language and legal system very different from our own. What horrifies many is that a defendant’s innocence is wholly irrelevant to the British court when considering an extradition request in Europe. This is why the very few protections from extradition which do currently exist must be strictly applied.
The tragic case of Andrew Symeou, arrested at home in June 2008 following a request for his extradition from Greek authorities investigating the death of fellow British holidaymaker Jonathan Hiles in 2007, should be a stark warning to those wanting to limit legal protections against extradition. Andrew, who protested his innocence throughout and had evidence to demonstrate he was not at the scene of the crime when it was committed, was nonetheless extradited in July 2009. He was escorted from the plane by armed police officers and incarcerated in deeply unpleasant conditions for over 10 months with several applications for bail refused. He was eventually released but forced to stay in Greece until his trial in June 2011, four years after the incident that caused Jonathan’s death. Andrew was eventually acquitted at trial, but only after three years of mental anguish for him and his family.
Unfortunately, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which secured its first reading in parliament last week, removes the automatic right to appeal an extradition order from the magistrates’ court. This is far from a mere technicality – it’s a measure that is likely to lead to the sort of injustice Andrew has suffered. Huge numbers of people are arrested on European extradition warrants and their extradition is ordered either the same day or the very next. Those people have a right to be represented by the duty solicitor, but should the busy lawyer miss something (not uncommon), the requested person has some protection: as things currently stand the defendant has an automatic right to appeal within seven days. This provides a vitally important safety mechanism.
Yet if this bill’s proposals are brought in, the defendant will instead need to seek the court’s specific permission to appeal. Unfortunately, the proposed legislation contains little detail on the process for appeal. Will the requested person be given access to legal advice in preparing an application for permission? Will there be any opportunity to review a decision not to grant permission? It is entirely feasible that a person who is wrongly advised in the magistrates’ court could be extradited before being given any opportunity to have that decision reviewed.
There are widespread concerns across parliament about the use of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), even more so when it is used to extradite persons for petty crimes which may not even be imprisonable in this country. A notable case that I dealt with earlier this year involved a man wanted in Poland for cycling whilst drunk, a ‘crime’ he was said to have committed some seven years before.
Whilst the Home Office looks to limit the rights of defendants, another significant proposal for extradition reform hasn’t yet made it anywhere near the statute book – the introduction of a proportionality test into the EAW system.
This proportionality proposal comes from the UK’s right to opt out of EU policing and justice measures in 2014, including the EAW. Eurosceptics look forward to this possibility, although it carries obvious risks. Rather than opting out of the EAW framework in its entirety and risk Britain becoming a safe haven for Europe’s criminal fraternity, a compromise is suggested: the introduction of a test to prevent extradition where the offence is trivial. Proportionality has been plaguing the courts not only in this country but across the EU since the EAW was introduced, and bringing in such a test would address a real injustice.
Seen together, these reforms (one proposed, one so far overlooked) convey a confusing message. On the one hand, the government is driving forward a fast-track system of surrender on demand, which limits the scope for requested persons to raise troubling and time-consuming matters such as a person’s human rights. On the other, there is a growing public awareness, slowly filtering through to MPs, that too much taxpayers’ money is being spent extraditing people for minor offences.
Parliament understands the need for reform of Britain’s extradition arrangements yet the government is showing a deep ambivalence – this disconnect does not bode well.
Rebecca Niblock, solicitor at Kingsley Napley LLP and co-author of Extradition law: A Practitioner’s Guide, published by Legal Action Group, May 2013