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Stephen Hoffman: The Sinister World of the European Arrest Warrant

Stephen Hoffman is Parliamentary Intern at The Freedom Association.

During the previous Labour Government’s period in power, we had the twin horrors of ancient British liberties being torn up in the name of counter-terrorism and further transfers of power to the EU. This both hit UK taxpayers in the pocket and undermined national sovereignty. These horrors combined to create one of the most sinister pieces of legislation. Its name is the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

The importance of the EAW cannot be overstated. Whilst our extradition treaty with the USA captures most of the headlines, the extradition legislation that has the most effect on the UK is the European Arrest Warrant. Although between 2003 and 2009, 69 British citizens were extradited to the USA, this number pales in comparison to the number extradited through the European Arrest Warrant.

According to Fair Trials International, from 2009 to 2010 alone, 699 people were extradited to other EU member states. According to the House of Commons Justice Select Committee, these numbers are set to rise by up to 250% in future. The numbers suggest that concerns about human rights have been abandoned to fast-track procedures for extradition across the EU.

It is not surprising that, due to the amount the European Arrest Warrant is used, it is often abused for the most trivial of cases. Recent examples include the theft of a pig, stealing chocolate bars and exceeding a bank overdraft limit. These examples demonstrate the disproportionate use of a power which should not have been available in the first place.

Additionally, many of the new member states, such as Bulgaria, are not known for fair treatment of their own citizens, let alone those of other nations. The irony of this is that the European Arrest Warrant was supposedly created to ensure justice across the EU. However, in many cases, extradited citizens have had to await trail for lengthy periods and often in terrible conditions.

Before being part of the European Arrest Warrant system, the UK could stop many extradition attempts in its tracks through a prosecutor’s test. This meant that extradition of British citizens could only occur if a judge deemed it serious enough. However, the European Arrest Warrant has no such safeguards, and citizens all across Europe, as well as judiciaries across Europe, are paying for this through added stress and costs.

The Ministry of Justice cannot do anything about this apart from rubber-stamp the extraditions, even if it has concerns about lack of evidence, or mistreatment of the individual. Thus, due to the European Arrest Warrant, the UK government cannot fulfil a fundamental duty of a nation-state: the protection of its citizens from arbitrary arrest.

The worst aspect of the European Arrest Warrant is the abolition of double criminality in 32 areas. Double criminality clauses are often put in legislation relating to extradition to stop citizens being extradited for behaviour that is not considered a crime in their country of origin. The European Arrest Warrant ignores this. Thus, it creates a situation where it is possible to extradite an individual to another state for committing an offence that is not a crime in the country where the activity took place.

This could create a ludicrous situation where a person in the UK could be extradited to Germany on charges of holocaust denial even though this isn’t a crime in the UK. Whilst denying the holocaust is clearly wrong, it is not banned in the UK, because freedom of speech means freedom to offend. Yet, because of the European Arrest Warrant, this safeguard protecting freedom of speech is under threat from a German law that for which no one in Britain voted. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the Labour Government, when presenting the legislation to Parliament, denied that the European Arrest Warrant abolished double criminality. Not for the first time, the Government misled Parliament to ensure the passage of legislation.

One case, which demonstrates the human costs of the European Arrest Warrant, is that of Andrew Symeou, who was extradited to Greece on charges of murder. This was despite the fact that there was little evidence to back the charges and important evidence on a CCTV camera, clearing Andrew, mysteriously went missing. There is also evidence that torture was used to extract confessions from informants. This was just the start of a terrible journey for him. He has been held for over a year awaiting trial. Most of this time has been spent in Korydallos prison, which is notorious for human rights abuse.

The Home Office is currently reviewing all extradition legislation. As part of this review, The Freedom Association has submitted a report detailing the ways in which the EAW infringes on the rights and freedoms of British citizens. Our submission highlights that the EAW undermines habeas corpus, a fundamental element of British justice. We would like to see the review recommend wide-ranging reforms which address the issues we have highlighted in our submission. If the review does not do this, the Coalition Government’s commitment to civil liberties will be seen to be entirely hollow.


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