If you are taking a holiday in the European Union, make sure you do not break any of their laws — even if such a law would not be considered a criminal offence in the UK — or you could be chased back to Britain and served with a European Arrest Warrant (EAW).
An Act creating the EAW was originally issued under European Council Framework Decision 2002/584/JHA on 13th June 2002 and was intended to speed up the extradition of wanted criminals throughout the EU. Until then, extraditions had been slow affairs, dealt with through diplomatic channels, but once the Act came into force in 2004, extraditions became much swifter because they were entirely handled by the judiciary. Now, it is simply a matter of a ‘system of surrender’ between the judicial authorities of the country issuing the EAW and those of the country surrendering the person mentioned in the Warrant.
While Britain did not immediately join up for the EAW, the Government was finally persuaded to opt into the Act on 1st December 2014. Even then, there was much Parliamentary opposition to the EAW. This was partly because it removed the protection Britons have enjoyed since the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 where British subjects could not be arbitrarily detained. But the most important point was that it also removed the traditional protection in that no-one should be sent for imprisonment by a British court without enquiry by a judge into the facts of the case. Under the EAW, this cannot be done, even if at first glance, the evidence is flawed, and judges have very little option but to surrender the person demanded.
This means that Britons can now be extradited to face charges in other EU member states, many of which have standards of justice far below our own and that those arrested might wait several years before coming to court. It should also be remembered that the Napoleonic Code of justice, used in many of the EU member states, means that defendants can be taken into custody for months without charge and with no bail. To lay people, that must feel like ‘guilty until proven innocent’.
In 2009, Andrew Symeou, a 20 year old student from Enfield, was accused by the Greek police of manslaughter after the death of a teenager in a Greek nightclub in 2007. Although Mr Symeou denied the charge, saying that he was not even in the nightclub at the time of the alleged attack, the EAW was served and the British Courts said there was nothing they could do to stop it. His lawyers unsuccessfully fought the extradition saying that the evidence against him was fabricated and obtained by Greek police through the violent intimidation of witnesses. Mr Symeou was therefore flown to Greece in July 2009 where he spent 11 months in appalling conditions in jail before coming to court. This was followed by a further year on bail until he was finally acquitted in 2011.
One serious concern is that the European Arrest Warrant can be issued for what is an offence in the country executing the warrant but not in the surrendering country and there is no exception clause allowing a state to refuse to surrender its own nationals.
Another is that the Act was originally intended to cover only very serious crimes, such as arson, murder, terrorism and others requiring an imprisonment period of at least one year. But while Britain usually maintains this level of offence before issuing a warrant, some EU member states are likely to request extradition for relatively minor crimes. Warrants have even been issued for trivial offences such as the possession of 0.45 grams of cannabis, 3 ecstasy tablets, two car tyres and even the theft of a piglet.
But in Britain standards can also slip and the EAW misused, as can be seen in the case of five-year old Ashya King.
In 2014 Ashya’s parents wanted to take their son abroad for cancer treatment after his doctors at the Southampton hospital said it would not be suitable for him and was not available under the NHS. The Kings therefore took their son from the hospital but without the doctors’ permission and what followed was both a tragedy and a farce. The Hampshire police issued a European Arrest Warrant for ‘criminal neglect’ and the family were hunted down to Spain where they were jailed, leaving Aysha alone in a Malaga hospital. Eventually his parents were released for ‘insufficient evidence’ and the Hampshire police, shamefaced, admitted that they never intended to prosecute — the EAW was just a convenient tool to track the Kings down. Yet, according to EU law, the EAW can only be served if the intention is to prosecute and so this was an illegal act on the part of the police.
The case of Andrew Symeou, who was wrongly arrested by an EAW in Britain for a crime he had not committed in Greece, and the case of the Aysha King’s parents who were wrongly arrested abroad by an EAW which was illegally issued in Britain, are but two of many which show how dangerous this EU Act is.
What is more, the European Arrest Warrant is totally unnecessary.
Britain has been a member of Interpol since 1923 and has extradition arrangements with numerous other sovereign nations — including for example, a fast-track extradition Treaty with Spain. It is a fact that Governments and police forces could and did cooperate to fight terror and organised crime and, indeed, this is what happens now with non-EU governments.
So we can fully cooperate with countries on the European continent without ourselves being signed up to the European Arrest Warrant.
So, doing away with [envoke_twitter_link]the European Arrest Warrant is yet another reason to vote to Leave the European Union[/envoke_twitter_link] in the coming Referendum on 23rd June 2016.