22nd Sep 2023

European arrest warrant still 'delivering injustice'

Fast-track extraditions under the "European Arrest Warrant" are still landing innocent people in foreign prisons, prompting distrust among national prosecutors, with over 250 cases last year being brought to the EU's judicial co-operation agency, Eurojust, for mediation.

A total of 256 cases were mediated by Eurojust in 2009 whenever two or several member states disagreed over the scope and the proportionality of a "European arrest warrant", the agency's annual report shows.

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  • European arrest warrants can land you in a foreign jail without a proper explanation (Photo: decade_null)

Set up in 2002, following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the fast-track extradition scheme allows suspects to be sent from one EU country to another within 45 days if prosecutors have reason to believe that he or she has committed a serious cross-border crime.

But national authorities are often reluctant to extradite their nationals, citing poor evidence or disproportionate arrests for relatively minor offences, the Eurojust report reads.

"What we can do is to give advice and see how we can facilitate the execution of a European arrest warrant, for instance what further evidence prosecutors need to gather," Eurojust's spokesman Johannes Thuy told this website.

But the body, with 27 prosecutors from each member state, has no authority to annul a wrongly issued arrest warrant or to stop an extradition if its procedures are flawed.

Several case studies from Fair Trial International, a London-based non-governmental organisation, show that this fast-track extradition scheme allows people to be sent over to another country where they often do not understand the proceedings and charges brought against them.

A British national, Michael Turner, was held in a former KGB prison in Hungary for four months after being extradited under a European arrest warrant on 2 November 2009. During that time, he was interviewed only once by police, on alleged fraud surrounding the failure of his holiday homes business in Hungary and was ultimately sent back to the UK. Now 5 months after his extradition was carried out, the investigation is still ongoing with charges neither brought nor dropped against him.

"Although the European arrest warrant was intended to deliver justice, the current system is in practice resulting in serious injustice," Catherine Heard from Fair Trials International told EUobserver.

Some 14,000 such arrest warrants are issued yearly across the EU and in many cases they concern minor crimes. "We have also encountered cases where warrants have been used many years after the alleged offence or in situations where a fair trial is impossible or where the authorities have not even made a decision to prosecute."

"Crucial safeguards must be built into the system to stop countless more cases of injustice," she said.

Meanwhile, the EU commission is tabling legislation piece-by-piece to boost defendants' rights – ranging from translation to letters outlining their rights in a basic language they can understand – after a failed attempt in 2004 to adopt all this in one set of measures.

"Europe put the cart before the horse with the arrest warrant, before there was a common justice area," Matthew Newman, spokesman for the justice commissioner Viviane Reding said. But he pointed to the fact that member states and the European Parliament are now in favour of these new proposals aiming to fill the gaps and restore the trust in the EU justice system.

Also, Eurojust's powers are set to be boosted, as the Lisbon Treaty specifically mentions its transformation into a European Public Prosecutor with investigative powers. Ms Reding pledged to have this change take place during her mandate, which ends in 2013.

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