Emily Barley is Director of Due Process, the anti-EAW campaign group, and Chairman of Conservatives for Liberty.
Brexit campaigners hailed a massive victory when, back in February, the Government announced that we will be leaving the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).
Finally, we knew we’d be out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), be able to restore our great British tradition of civil liberties, and could protect people living here from the abuses and mistakes of the EAW processes, substandard EU justice systems, and medieval European prisons.
But there was a sting in the tail of the Government’s announcement: sure, the plan was to leave the EAW, but then replace it with something that looks suspiciously like the EAW.
The EU-Iceland-Norway agreement the Government is modelling its proposed extradition agreement on has been described by experts as the “EAW-lite”, and has all the same problems that have raised such widespread objections to the EAW.
Under the Government’s plan we would be technically outside of the ECJ, but our courts would still need to take into account its judgments – in practice continuing the same state of affairs as now and not fulfilling the expectations Boris Johnson raised when he promised to take us out of it.
This new EU-wide agreement would have the same foundation of “mutual trust and recognition” between the UK and EU member states which requires British judges to turn a blind eye to serious abuses and mistakes in the substandard and corrupt justice systems of the likes of Poland, Greece, Hungary and Romania.
This system leaves us all vulnerable. It has led to cases like that of Edmond Arapi, who was convicted of a murder in Italy that happened while he was at work in the UK; Andrew Symeou, who was held in a Greek hell-hole for ten months after an ill-fated holiday where police beat false accusations out of his friends, and Alexander Adamescu, whose case is the most infamous and egregious example of the failings of the EAW going through the UK courts right now.
Adamescu is sought by Romanian authorities to face charges of corruption in a business insolvency case. There is no evidence against Adamescu, but that doesn’t matter under the EAW – because British judges cannot look at the evidence, or lack of it, even if they wanted to.
Human rights campaigners have described the conviction in 2014 of Alexander’s father, Dan Adamescu, on the same charges in the same case as a “show trial” which violated the presumption of innocence – but that doesn’t matter under the EAW, because the foundation of “mutual trust and recognition” means British judges must have blind faith in the justice systems of other countries.
Even when evidence mounts that the case against Adamescu is a politically motivated stitch-up by an unreformed communistic state, British judges must look the other way, required to believe that EU member states always act with integrity and in accordance with the law. It would be laughable if the consequences of the UK continuing with an EAW-lite extradition system weren’t so serious.
The Government says it wants to introduce “further safeguards” into this “new” system, but the ones we really need – like asking judges to look at the evidence against the accused (a prima facie case), and not sending people to countries with corrupt justice systems and medieval prisons – are incompatible with its plan.
We need to do this thing properly, and drop the idea of an EU-wide extradition agreement.
What we need instead is a series of bilateral agreements which acknowledge the varying quality of justice systems in EU member states and introduce a diplomatic check in the process, as is already the case with extraditions to non-EU countries.
I set out exactly how this would work in my report The future of extradition from the UK: Protecting fundamental rights, recently published by Due Process. There’s a lot at stake here. The Romanian state has already killed Dan Adamescu, and has its sights set on his son.
Innocent people going on holiday to EU countries are at risk of having their lives turned upside down, like Symeou’s was. And even those who stay at home, minding their own business and never setting foot in a particular country, are at risk of accusations and convictions under the EAW, like Arapi.
Johnson won the election last year with a commitment to take us out of the clutches of the EU, and unless that includes abandoning the idea of a dangerous EAW-lite system, he will have failed.