Irish attempt to extend EU arrest warrant 'misguided'
by Emily Smith
By introducing a bill to extend the scope of the European Arrest Warrant, Ireland is flying in the face of calls for major reforms of the systems, says Fair Trials International
A bill has been introduced in Ireland's parliament which would extend the geographical scope of the European Arrest Warrant by enabling Irish ministers to apply its provisions to extraditions involving countries outside of the European Union. By introducing this bill, Ireland is flying in the face of growing calls for reform of Europe's fast-track extradition system, which was introduced hurriedly in the wake of the 9/11 atrocities with too few safeguards for the fundamental rights of those caught up in extradition proceedings.
The problems with the European Arrest Warrant are well known in Ireland. Earlier this year, the Irish Supreme Court overturned an earlier decision to extradite Ian Bailey, who was wanted by France in connection with the murder of French national Sophie du Plantier near her holiday home in Cork in 1996.
The Supreme Court said that Mr Bailey, who was twice arrested in Ireland but never charged there, could not be sent to France because the French authorities only intended to question him and had made no decision to charge. However, France has so far refused to rescind the European Arrest Warrant and Mr Bailey is trapped in Ireland, unable to visit his mother in the United Kingdom. Mr Bailey was one of the lucky ones – in 2011 alone more than 600 people were extradited from Ireland under the arrest warrant system.
Every year we see numerous cases of injustice where people are uprooted from their homes and families as a result of flaws in this "no questions asked" extradition system. One shocking case is that of Natalia Gorczowska, a 23 year-old Polish national and mother of a year-old child, both of whom live in the UK. Natalia was arrested in the UK in December 2011, under a European Arrest Warrant seeking her return to Poland to serve a suspended sentence imposed when she was 17 for possession of a small quantity of amphetamines for personal use.
Natalia lost her appeal against extradition, the court deciding that complying with Poland's extradition request should take precedence over Natalia's and her child's rights to a family life, despite the relatively minor offence and the fact that the original sentence had been suspended. Poland eventually agreed to withdraw the arrest warrant following a campaign by Fair Trials International, but not before Natalia had been separated from her one-year old son and had undergone a terrible ordeal.
The need for reform of the European Arrest Warrant has gained momentum over the past two years. The European Commission has expressed concern about the way the arrest warrant is being used for minor crimes and last June MEPs voiced cross-party support for reform. In this context it is perhaps surprising that the Irish government is proposing to extend the provisions of the arrest warrant beyond EU countries.
Fair Trials International has long argued for safeguards against abuse and overuse to be built in to the EU arrest warrant law. We have proposed simple safeguards to protect the fundamental rights of suspects, while ensuring that Europe has an effective extradition system to combat serious cross-border crime.
Our reforms require: a proportionality test to prevent arrest warrants being issued for minor offences; safeguards against grave fundamental rights infringements; and an obligation to remove arrest warrants once extradition has been refused. Until the EU has put its own house in order by making these reforms a reality, extending the scope of this system beyond the EU seems misguided.
Emily Smith is policy officer at Fair Trials International
UK's missed opportunity on extradition reform
The UK is right to make reform of the European Arrest Warrant one of its priorities in Brussels, but it must also enact the necessary changes to its domestic legislation to make the extradition rules fair, writes Emily Smith