Trivial Pursuit: The Reality of Extradition

Posted: 24/01/2012 in Barrister, Civil Rights
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I fell into extradition law. I was at my old place and I was asked to cover one day. The clerks knew I did prison law and public law, so they thought send FTD.

Extradition is a bit of a different world. Everyone talks in numbers. The numbers you later learn are section numbers from the Extradition Act 2003. People talk about cases constantly too, and they’re ever changing.

I have been in the North for the past few weeks. My opponent was asking me about my weekend. I told him I had gone down to the Mags to do three new extraditions. Because of his location, rather than anything else, he had never done one.

To him, he assumed it was all big offences, big cases like Pinochet and such like. In my new set I do a lot of extradition, I post this so people have a flavour of the reality.

The reality

At my level at least the cases are far from high profile. The extradition offences are quite often things you and I would consider minor.

The favourites? Stolen mobile phones. Pickpockets. Minor assaults.

Of course, they’re all offences. Somebody has been inconvenienced or hurt.

But what about these:

Insulting a police constable. Sorry? What?

Or how about this, going over drawn on your bank account. Yep.

Trivial pursuit

Imagine you’ve gone over drawn on your account. You move across Europe. You have been in another country quite legally for five years, you’ve worked, you’ve paid taxes. And then one day the police knock on the door. You’re handcuffed. Within 24 hours you’re taken from one end of England to another. You meet a lawyer you don’t know. You appear in front of a Judge. And at that moment in time, they can send you abroad, away from your family, life and job.

Or, you go on a hen weekend in a European City. You get in a Friday night fight. Handcuffed, sleep off the booze in a cell. The Coppers kick you out in the morning, tell you that’s the end of it. Three years later, back in Blighty you have a bump in your car. The police turn up, they check you on the police national computer. The cuffs go on, you’re wanted on a European Arrest Warrant.

You’re barred

If you’re lucky then an argument can be raised that your extradition is barred. But in terms of a European Arrest Warrant there’s a presumption you’ll get a fair trial, there’s a presumption that you’ll be held in a prison which is humane and safe.

To bar an extradition to Europe is very difficult indeed. The presumption is, you’re going.

The presumption is our European partners will act properly and not abuse the system.

Triviality is no bar

In European cases, if someone is accused of offence it must carry a sentence of 12 months in the requesting country. If they’ve been found guilty in their absence then you can be extradited on a 4 month sentence.

Imagine how much money has to be spent in arresting that person. How much money it costs to put them through a Court process. How much money it costs to imprison them. How much money it cots to transport them back to the requesting state.

It’s an awful lot for what, by our community standards may well be a trivial offence.

Mutual trust

The whole system of European Arrest Warrants is based on mutual assistance and trust. As ever, trust can be abused. The hawk eyed amongst you will have noticed a flaw above.

In an accusation case the crime must carry 12 months imprisonment or more. Imagine low level offences, just because they carry 12 months doesn’t mean someone is going to get 12 months when they get back to the requesting country.

The time spent in an English prison counts.

Spend 3 months in an English prison. When you get to the requesting country you might only get a 3 month sentence. We’ve just paid to carry out the sentence of another country’s Court.

England could become Europe’s gaoler.

And the law might presume…

That you’ll get a fair trial. That you’ll be held in a decent prison. I don’t.

The old law contained a bar to extradition on the basis of triviality. Sir Scott Baker when he reviewed this country’s extradition law concluded that there were far too many trivial cases.

There should be no harbour in our neighbour’s borders for those who commit serious crimes here.

But we should not become Europe’s gaoler. We should not extradite people who work hard here, who pay taxes here, who have children at school for trivial offences. Especially offences which have very little resemblance to anything within our own criminal law.

The real debate about extradition is not Pinochet, Assange or McKinnon. It is whether we should be obliged to take part in the pursuit of other European Citizens for very trivial offences.



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