On Oct 7th, I stood in for Nigel at the Conference of Presidents’ meeting in Brussels to interrogate Mr. Frans Timmermans, Commissioner-Designate as First Vice-President for Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and Charter of Fundamental Rights. I had two one-minute slots. I used the first one to ask about the ECHR, and our inability to deport foreign criminals, terrorists, murderers and rapists. I was told we in the UK should not consider leaving the ECHR, because it would encourage and justify an illiberal stance by countries like Russia and Kazakhstan. My view is that it’s the job of British politicians to worry about the UK first, and Russia and Kazakhstan a poor second.
But for my second turn, I decided to ask a question on the vexed issue of the European Arrest Warrant:
Mr. Timmermans, would you agree with me that the European Arrest Warrant is causing great injustices? It overturns basic principles which have been treasured by British citizens for centuries: for example habeus corpus and trial by jury.
I have personally dealt with a case where two of my constituents were sent to another member-state and held in atrocious conditions for three months, without a trial date, or any assurance that they would have English translation in court, or even confirmation of the charges they would face. And all this on the strength of minor allegations which should never have justified extradition.
These two men suffered intolerable and undeserved damage to their personal lives and career prospects.
These are just one example, but I could quote many more. Today, any British citizen can be shipped abroad at the whim of a foreign magistrate, with no appeal, no safeguards, no checks and balances What will you do to end this injustice?
Timmermans tried to catch me out by suggesting that my first question seemed to be calling for more EU rules, while my second question seemed to be calling for fewer. If you can follow the logic of that, you’re doing better than I am. The fact is that the ECHR prevents us from deporting bad guys, while the EAW requires us to deport (potentially) good guys.
Timmermans mainly sought to justify the EAW (as does Nick Clegg) by saying what a boon it is to policing, making it easier to arrest criminals. But of course if you introduce an authoritarian régime, if you clamp down on everything, if you introduce a police state, then you can really have an impact on crime. But you also deny basic human rights. And as I know from direct experience with constituents, the EAW denies basic rights, and imposes huge injustices on British citizens.
After the hearing, I got an e-mail from someone in the Commission, Viviane Van Oosterwijck, assuring me that “pre-trial conditions are concretely looked at in DG JUST, in the context of judicial co-operation in criminal matters (unit B.1)”. I replied:
Thank you for your assurance that pre-trial conditions are “looked at”. But this doesn’t help in terms of the actual case-work with which Members work on a day-to-day basis.
No one should be “judicially rendered” (this is not extradition) unless three conditions are fulfilled:
1 The alleged offence is sufficiently serious to justify extradition;
2 The evidence provides at least a prima facie case against the accused;
3 The standards of pre-trial treatment and judicial process at least match those of the accused’s home country.
In the cases that I am aware of and concerned about, none of these conditions is satisfied.
We need not vague reassurances, but radical change.