Nick de Bois is a Secretary of the 1922 Committee and MP for Enfield North.
Tomorrow, the Government will almost certainly receive assent to opt back into 35 European Justice Measures agreed by Labour as part of the Lisbon Treaty. Amongst them will be the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), the most controversial of them all.
The UK temporarily withdrew from the EAW agreement when the Government opted out of over 100 criminal justice measures – but is now recommending to Parliament that Britain should opt back into 35 new measures before the deadline to do so or not set by the Lisbon Treaty expires. This will mean that, once again, if an EU member state wishes to secure the extradition of a UK national they must simply complete a simple “tick box” process to do so – and our courts are relatively powerless to do anything about it.
That’s exactly what the Greek authorities did to my constituent Andrew Symeou – who was extradited to Greece in 2009 to face charges in connection with the death of a young man at a nightclub on a Greek island.
Andrew was extradited despite evidence that the charges were based on statements extracted by Greek police through the violent intimidation of witnesses, who later retracted their statements. Worse, he did not even fit the description given by witnesses of the perpetrator, yet our court, whilst expressing these reservations and doubts about the evidence, was powerless to intervene.
After spending over ten months in terrible conditions in a Greek prison, Andrew was finally released on bail, but was unable to leave Greece. He was finally cleared by a court in 2011, and will tell his full story in a book due to be released next year.
The EAW is not meant to be used to leave people languishing in jails for months without facing trial – causing unimaginable turmoil for the victim and their families as they cope with a loved one in jail in a foreign country.
The Government has this year introduced reforms in an attempt to mitigate some of the worst aspects of the EAW. One of these changes introduced attempts to stop what happened to my constituent being repeated in the future. Dubbed the “Symeou Clause”, it seeks to create a bar to extradition where no decision has been taken by the issuing state to try the requested person.
This is good in theory – but, unfortunately, amendments designed to remove the ambiguity in the drafting mean that a requesting state may make a decision to charge, but not a decision to prosecute – which would still leave the hapless victim in the position my constituent found himself. Andrew Symeou put it more bluntly when he met the Home Office minister and officials: “What’s to stop them lying?” Who can blame him for his lack of trust?
That’s why the decision to reject amendments that would permit judges to take into account evidence not directly related to the content of the warrant itself, such as examining the past record of the issuing state, is difficult to understand. Quite simply, our courts cannot make a judgement as to whether a prosecuting country is indeed intent or even ready to go to trial.
That is one flaw in the EAW – but not by any means the only one.
Yet tomorrow, as the Bill passes through the House, we will be told that not to support it would mean the UK would become a haven for both foreign and domestic criminals. The security chiefs have issued grave threats, and the legal establishment is queuing up to support the Government’s position – presenting a binary choice that there is no alternative to the EAW, and we must join it.
I am saddened that the Government’s argument has been reduced to all this, and that we have seen no attempt to explain what the alternatives for extradition arrangements could be. After all, if a Conservative government is elected next year, by 2017 we could be out of the European Union together – and with it the EAW. Is it realistic that we would have no extradition arrangements in place then? Somehow, I don’t think so .
Much as we have with other countries around the world, we could have negotiated an agreement. Let’s face it, we have that with the U.S – which, frankly, was badly negotiated by Labour but the point remains that it can be done, and that the flawed EAW is not the only option.
As the Rochester by-election approaches many colleagues in the House who are opponents of the EAW will be reluctant to vote against the Government. That’s understandable – but it is regretful that such a crucial decision is being presented to the Commons under such circumstance. It should not prevent the most demanding of scrutiny tomorrow.