Saturday, 16 January 2010

The European Arrest Warrant - an arrested development.

Enjoy your holiday or business trip but be careful what you do when abroad in other EU countries. Step out of line and you could find a European Arrest Warrant following you back home and whisking you off for a stay in a not so nice foreign prison and our authorities will not even try to stop it or defend you.

Many people are unaware of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) even though it has legally existed since 1st January 2004 when the Extradition Act 2003 came into force. EAWs have already been used to transfer thousands of individuals around Europe. In 2008, nearly 14000 were issued and 351 people were transferred out of the U.K. under warrants issued in a requesting country. It appears that the numbers are likely to increase because, from April 2010, the U.K. becomes part of a pan-European system for sending out warrants. Known as the Schengen Information System II (SISII), a database will include alerts for wanted persons within the European Union and will therefore be the means by which European Arrest Warrants (EAWs) are transmitted and received.

The EAW system is based on mutual recognition between countries. Although the Extradition Act 2003 contains some safeguards, in reality the whole process is based on a seriously flawed assumption that all European member states offer the same standards of fairness and treatment of suspects, defendants and prisoners as eachother. On 13th August 2009, The Times carried the story of a person extradited for stealing a mobile telephone.

The Europa website gives further information about these arrest warrants. They were implemented in English law by the Extradition Act 2003 – (read the Act as originally enacted). The Home Office Police website gives further factual information.

It is clear that the warrant is not operating as it was meant to and it has resulted in some serious cases of injustice – see the Law Society Gazette of 14th January 2010 – “Arrested Development.”

Fair Trials International” campaigns for a fairer system of extradition within Europe.

The recently decided case of Mann v City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court [2010] EWHC 48 (Admin) shows some of the problems inherent in the system of EAWs. In particular, note carefully the need for notices of appeal to be issued within the short time limits allowed.

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