FTI launches Justice In Europe campaign
December 11, 2009
In 2002 the European Union created the European Arrest Warrant, a fast-track system for surrendering people from one European country to another to face trial or serve a prison sentence. It was rushed in as part of the EU’s response to the terrorist threat and was meant to help tackle serious cross-border crime more effectively. The new system has removed all political discretion in extradition decisions, done away with the traditional legal barriers to extradition and made transfers much quicker. It has already been used to transfer thousands of individuals.
Each year thousands of people are transferred under the EAW to face trials or serve prison sentences in a foreign country. Police and courts from different countries now hold and exchange ever greater amounts of evidence and criminal records data.
This kind of EU cooperation can help in the fight against crime, making it easier to bring the guilty to justice. But cooperation must not be at the expense of fundamental justice and fairness. At Fair Trials International we believe that respect for the rule of law should be at the heart of European cooperation. Europe should work together to improve basic fair trial rights – not undermine them.
Sadly, our own casework repeatedly demonstrates the human cost of existing cooperation measures. Under the European Arrest Warrant, for example, people from all across Europe are being sent to other EU member states for the most minor offences, or to serve prison sentences imposed after unfair trials. As about half of our cases concern Europe, we also have compelling evidence of the need to improve fair trial rights across the Union. It is hugely disappointing that, to date, the UK and a minority of other states have vetoed efforts to improve standards of justice, choosing instead to trust other European legal systems to deliver justice – a trust that is sometimes misguided.
Although it was intended to deliver justice, the current system is actually resulting in cases of serious injustice:
- Warrants have been used to send people to the other side of Europe for the most minor offences.
- Warrants have been issued many years after an alleged offence was committed – in one of our cases, 20 years later.
- Once Warrants have been issued there is no effective way of removing them, even after extradition has been refused.
- They have been used to send people to another EU member state to serve a prison sentence resulting from an unfair trial.
- Warrants have been used to force a person to face trial when the charges are based on evidence obtained from police brutality.
- Sometimes people will have to spend months or even years in detention before they appear in court to establish their innocence.
Fair Trials International wants a fair system of extradition within Europe. The current system must be improved so it delivers rather than undermines justice. We will highlight compelling cases of injustice to prove change is needed. We will challenge inappropriate uses of the Warrant in the courts. We will lobby politicians to change to the laws that created the Warrant.