Fair Trials joins with criminal justice experts on European Arrest Warrant

Article by Fair Trials

Experts in criminal justice from across the European Union have united in expressing their concerns regarding the protection of human rights in the fast-track extradition system; the European Arrest Warrant, as well as the poor and inhumane prison conditions in EU member states.

Fair Trials has joined with 19 other signatories from LEAP, its EU-wide Legal Expert Network, in writing a letter to Věra Jourová, the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality at the European Commission, questioning the Opinion of Advocate-General Bot in two specific cases; Aranyosi and Căldăraru, when advising the Court of Justice of the EU.

The letter, titled ‘A Threat to Justice in Europe’ expresses ‘grave concerns’ regarding the Advocate-General’s Opinion, which, if adopted, would place the EU legal order out of line with the ‘overwhelming global consensus’ that persons should not be extradited to countries where there is a real risk of torture or inhuman/degrading treatment.

The Opinion suggests that if detention conditions issues are raised in the state requesting extradition, the holding judicial authority cannot ask for more information to assess whether there is risk of the person being detained in ‘inhumane’ conditions. However, it does not specify that the judicial authority can refuse the European Arrest Warrant, even if it confirms there will be a risk of inhuman or degrading treatment. The Opinion invites the Court to find that Article 1(3) of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) Framework Decision does not provide implicit ground to refuse the EAW, in fact it goes on to state that if that had indeed been the intention, it would have been made clear.

Thus, if the court were to follow the opinion it would mean the human rights-based grounds for refusing European Arrest Warrants applied in national implementing laws, are incompatible with the EAW Framework Decision.

The letter, coordinated by Fair Trials Europe’s office in Brussels, explains that should the CJEU adopt the Opinion, it would be deeply significant for the protection of fundamental human rights in EU extradition cases, but also would have implications for the public perception of the EU’s area of justice. Put simply, it would result in the EU legal order ‘being responsible for removing EU citizens’ fundamental human rights in the name of increased police and judicial cooperation’.

It stressed that mutual recognition should not operate to undermine human rights, and that measures such as the Arrest Warrant Framework Decision must be subject to proper protections for fundamental rights, in line with the recommendations of the European Parliament.

The letter urges the EU to commit to effective EU-wide legislation to tackle the unjustified use of pre-trial detention, and agrees with Advocate General Bot in that if action had been taken on this earlier, the prevalence of inhumane conditions in Europe’s prisons may well have reduced by this stage. This is a topic that Fair Trials has been working closely on, in anticipation of the release of a thorough pre-trial detention report, due to be published in April 2016.

Fair Trials has been working towards basic defence rights standards across the EU, as well as working towards ensuring extradition processes are subject to fair and stringent  protections – to ensure that mutual recognition does not come at a cost of human rights abuses. We believe that it is possible to combine effective extradition with respect for human rights, and have been campaigning for this since 2009.

You can find out more about our work towards fairer extradition laws here.

The letter in full can be accessed here.