A new report written by Emily Barley, Lisi Biggs-Davison and Chris Alderton and published by Due Process and CRCE has detailed which countries the UK most commonly surrenders people subject to EAWs to, and has assessed which EU countries are the worst violators of human rights relevant to extradition according to European Court of Human Rights judgements. The report reveals Romania as the worst perpetrator of human rights abuses in the European Union.
The report explains that whilst it is commonly accepted amongst British politicians, journalists, judiciary and members of the public that countries like Russia, Turkey and Ukraine are regular human rights abusers and therefore should be treated cautiously when it comes to extradition, there are also EU countries which have similar – and in some instances worse – human rights records which are not treated with the same wariness. Romania in particular is highlighted in the report as a source of concern for human rights abuses.
The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is the cornerstone of an extradition treaty between members of the European Union (EU). The EAW system allows arrest warrants issued by any EU member country to be executed in any other EU member state for prosecution, detention or imprisonment. The report explains that the grounds for appeal against an EAW are very limited. Appeals are only allowed based on political motivation and/or the expectation of human rights abuses.
Of the 4,803 people the UK surrendered to other EU countries, more than half were extradited to Poland (2,499). The next greatest numbers of people extradited were to Lithuania (480), Romania (358), and Latvia (225). From 2013 to 2016 the UK made a total of 1,024 requests for extradition to the UK, with these requests resulting in 661 arrests in EU member states. Of the 1,024 extraditions sought, just 551 people were actually surrendered.
While the report highlights specific concerns with Greece, Poland and Romania, it finds Romania to be by far the worst violator of human rights within the EU. With a total of 272 violations of human rights found by the European Court of Human Rights from 2014 to 2017, Romania had over 100 more judgements against it than the next worst country in the EU. The report explains that the vast majority of Romania’s violations were under Article 3 and Article 6 of the ECHR (238 of the 272). In terms of inhuman or degrading treatment, Romania ranks consistently behind only Russia in the Council of Europe. For violating the right to a fair trial the only worse offenders among the 47 Council of Europe members are Russia and Turkey.
Of the 104 violations found in Romania by the European Court of Human Rights for inhuman or degrading treatment, the vast majority occurred in detention. The European Court of Human Rights has consistently found that Romanian prisons are overcrowded, with space far below the legally required minimum per person. The report says: “In Romania, case after case has brought disgusting prison conditions to light; with infestations of bed bugs and vermin, inadequate washing facilities for prisoners, and cold, damp, dirty cells being the norm.”
The report also expresses concern that although the European Court of Human Rights has censured Romania for these violations over successive years, the country has not taken sufficient action to bring its prisons up to standard and so violations continue unabated. Therefore the report concludes that as a matter of urgency, the British political and legal establishment need to deal with the harsh disparities in justice and human rights that now exist between different member states of the EU, and abandon its dangerous assumption of parity. The report asserts that as part of the Brexit process, the UK should halt extraditions to the EU countries of concern highlighted in this report: top of the list being the leading human rights and due process abusers Romania and Greece, as well as Poland, to which the greatest number of people are surrendered from the UK and which has a poor human rights record. The report’s authors point out that already, the Irish High Court has recently refused extraditions to Poland on the grounds that there is grave political interference in the appointment and workings of Polish judges. They state that the High Court of Justice should now follow by considering a similarly urgent stance both against Romania, Greece and Poland.
Given the scale, depth and breadth of the abuses of human rights and due process by some EU member states, the report advises that the British Home Secretary, the Rt. Hon. Sajid Javid MP, should proactively use key mechanisms at his disposal, such as Humanitarian Protection, to halt the extradition of people to those EU countries which not only regularly violate human rights and due process, but which repeatedly renege on their assurances to British courts. For the report’s authors, the top of this list comes Romania. They say the UK government should use Brexit negotiations as a platform from which to redesign the EAW system and therein free up British judges to act as a bulwark against abuses of due process and human rights in key parts of Europe. They assert that this should include the right of British judges to evaluate whether there is a prima facie case to warrant a trial and extradition in the first place. They believe that if British judges remain precluded from evaluating evidence and the prima facie case, then this is not only a disaster for British justice but it amounts to a missed opportunity – for it denies the very real contribution that British justice can make in incentivising and improving the due process and human rights practices of several continental countries that deserve better.