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Pursuit of activist Vincenzo Vecchi highlights misuse of EAW

Extradition of activist Vincenzo Vecchi would set a dangerous precedent for favouring mutual trust over justice

Article by Fair Trials

On October 11, 2022, the French Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) will hear the extradition case of activist Vincenzo Vecchi. Ahead of the decision, Fair Trials cautions that Vecchi’s extradition will set a dangerous precedent that could result in the automatic processing of European Arrest Warrants (EAWs) without consideration of fundamental rights. Earlier this year, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued a ruling in relation to Vecchi’s case that prioritised mutual trust and efficiency over justice and fundamental rights. Vecchi’s extradition would undermine the respect for human rights, freedom and the rule of law on which the European Union is built.

Emmanuelle Debouverie, Senior Legal and Policy Officer at Fair Trials stated: 

“Vincenzo Vecchi has been accused of a vaguely defined offence that was introduced in Italy under fascism. Allowing his extradition would set a dangerous precedent, implying that European Arrest Warrants are simply an automatic process and that judges have no power to ensure that they are valid, fair and respect fundamental rights. Lawyers must be able to challenge EAWs: we cannot rely on ‘mutual trust’ when cases like Vecchi’s show that behind this trust hides the oppressive use of state powers.”

Over 20 years ago – in July 2001 – anti-globalisation activist, Vincenzo Vecchi, took part in a demonstration against the G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy. In 2016, the Italian authorities issued an EAW against Vecchi to enforce a prison sentence of twelve years and six months for taking part in the demonstration. One of the four sentences against Vecchi was for ‘devastation and looting’, originating from a law implemented under Mussolini’s fascist regime.

This law can be used to criminalise the right to demonstration – being at a protest and just in the vicinity of people who commit an offence such as criminal damage can be considered “moral support” . People can therefore be charged for offences even though they had no involvement. The offence of ‘devastation and looting’ carries a penalty of between eight- and fifteen- years’ imprisonment.

Under the principle of ‘double criminality’, one EU State can refuse to surrender a person under an EAW when the acts for which the person is wanted do not constitute a criminal offence in that State. The French Supreme Court referred Vecchi’s case to the CJEU because the offence of devastation and looting under Italian law referred to multiple acts of destruction and degradation causing a breach of the public peace. French criminal law did not specifically incriminate endangering the public peace through these acts. In addition, several of the acts constituting the single offence of devastation and looting did not constitute criminal offences under French law.

However, the CJEU ruled that the ‘devastation and looting’ law did not need strict equivalence with a French offence and that it was not up to France to assess the proportionality of the sentence. This ruling has devastating consequences for fundamental rights, as it suggests that states’ responsibilities to each other are more important that their responsibilities to people in their jurisdiction.

The case has now been referred back to the French Supreme Court, which will hear the case tomorrow, 11 October.

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