Defending theHuman Rightto a Fair Trial
February 28, 2014
The European Parliament has voted to adopt a report calling for reform of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), answering persistent calls for improvements to the European Union’s flagship judicial cooperation system, and placing the onus on the Commission to respond.
It is ten years since the EAW, allowing the surrender of convicted or accused persons between judicial authorities, was implemented in the EU. Since then, problems with its operation have become well-established. Chiefly, the use of EAWs for minor crimes has led to disproportionate costs and human impact, and real concerns have been raised about infringements of human rights arising from the execution of EAWs.
These problems arose in large part because the EAW Framework Decision, adopted when the European Parliament did not have a direct say in the legislative process, did not include appropriate safeguards. As a result, the system provided minimal protection for individual rights. Extradition courts of the Member States, and the Court of Justice of the European Union, have been unwilling to interfere and the need for reform has become clear.
Fair Trials has played a leading role in the debate surrounding the EAW, documenting many cases of injustice (featured in this video) and urging legislative reform. So we were pleased to see the European Parliament, equipped with new powers in this area by the Lisbon Treaty, take up the issue. Acknowledging that individual Member States were beginning to adopt reforms unilaterally, it recognised that coordinated EU action was needed, and in 2013, decided to produce an own initiative report, under the rapporteurship of Baroness Sarah Ludford.
The report, adopted on 27th February 2014, following a plenary debate in which several of Fair Trials’ cases were discussed, makes important legislative recommendations. It would require Member States’ judicial authorities to conduct a proportionality check before issuing decisions like the EAW, and to consider the risk of human rights infringements when executing them.
In adopting the report, the European Parliament – the European Union’s only directly elected representative body – has made the case for reform, and placed the ball firmly back in the court of the European Commission to come forward with much-needed proposals.
The initial response of the Commission was not positive. Addressing the European Parliament, Vice-President Viviane Reding, the Commissioner for Justice, stated that reform of the EAW would be ‘premature’, since the Commission will in any case from December 2014 have new enforcement powers to ensure Member States comply with EU laws which may help address some of the issues.
It is true that the Commission’s enhanced powers could make some difference. Indeed, Fair Trials has long called for full implementation of the European Supervision Order, an instrument which could help alleviate the risk of lengthy detention after extradition under the EAW. Member States have sadly been slow to implement it so far, and a nudge from the Commission may help.
But the key issues regarding proportionality and human rights were addressed in the European Parliament’s report because the safeguards are not there in the EAW Framework Decision, and, ipso facto, not there for the Commission to enforce. Only proactive legislative action can address these lacunae and it is to be hoped that the next Commission, which will begin its mandate in the Autumn, will show greater willingness to respond to the democratic representatives of EU citizens.
If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on 020 7822 2370 or 07950 849 851.
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