Our politicians shouldn't treat European law as a political football. Photo: Getty
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Politicisation of the European Arrest Warrant is dangerous and unnecessary

We need clarity on the European Arrest Warrant so that this logical and useful legal instrument does not fall victim to an emotive political bun fight.

The political storm surrounding the "on again off again" parliamentary vote on the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) underlines the complexity of an issue which is not easily defined in right versus left terms.

It is surprising that politicians for whom law and order is high on the agenda would object to a measure that has been used to extradite nearly 250 suspected rapists, murderers and child sex offenders. Such red meat for the red tops should, one would expect, be enough to bring even the most troublesome members along.

The reality is more complex. The European Arrest Warrant goes to the heart of two separate but interrelated questions. Firstly, to what extent does the EAW degrade or diminish civil liberties for UK citizens? Secondly, is it a worth further drain of sovereignty from Westminster to Brussels?

These are legitimate questions, and it is important that we provide clarity so that a logical and useful legal instrument does not fall victim to an emotive political bun fight.

Legislation governing the European Arrest Warrant was adopted in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The context of the time demanded that governments should be able to move much more swiftly to combat the risk of criminality generally and terrorism particularly. The aim of the EAW was to greatly speed up extradition proceedings between EU Member states, and to remove legal and practical obstacles to judicial cooperation.

In EU terms, the legislation itself was enacted with remarkable speed. Proposed in 2001, it was adopted the following year under the European Arrest Warrant Framework Decision.

The result was a greatly simplified system of extradition, governed by mutual recognition of judicial decisions. The system operates on the basis of maximum trust, minimum formality, and utmost speed.

The European Arrest Warrant has been effective in many of its aims, and has had some notable and high-profile successes. The impact of the legislation has been seen most clearly in the area of streamlined and speedy judicial cooperation between Member States. In 2012, Jeremy Forrest, who was arrested in France on suspicion of having an affair with a 15-year-old Sussex school girl, faced swift and successful extradition proceedings under the European Arrest Warrant System. He was extradited to the UK, where he was convicted the following year.

In 2005, Osman Hussain – a suspect in the failed London Bombings – was arrested in Rome eight days after the botched attack. He faced immediate extradition proceedings in Italy and was transferred to the UK in September.

That said, high-profile successes do not necessarily equate to good law. The speed with which the European Arrest Warrant can be enacted is undoubtedly a double-edged sword.

Human rights groups expressed concerns about the operation of the system, particularly regarding the protection of the rights of persons whose extradition has been sought. Many criticised the length of detention in EU prisons for suspects awaiting trial, problems with securing a fair trial, and the conditions to which suspects were subjected.

In response to these concerns, the EU introduced a series of measures to strengthen the rights of citizens who are subject to a European Arrest Warrant. The European Supervision Order – to which the UK sensibly subscribes - now provides mutual recognition of bail decisions, while suspects are guaranteed access to lawyers, translators, and interpreters.

Regrettably though, the United Kingdom does not participate in the European directive on access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings. This rather unedifying situation undermines the human rights infrastructure which is so crucial to the maintenance of credibility for the European Arrest Warrant. While the system has, on the one hand, provided Member State governments with a sharp judicial instrument, it should – on the other – be accompanied by ethical and rights based checks and balances.

What of concerns about handing over more sovereignty to Brussels?

It seems as if much of the rhetoric around this point addresses politics more than it does the legal system. The decision in 2013 to opt-out of all 133 EU police and criminal justice measures was – from the perspective of Eurosceptic MPs, something of a victory. The decision, one year later, to opt back in to 35 of those measures may then, seem a bit meek.

It is, however, entirely sensible. Yes, EU institutions, including the Court of Justice and the Commission, will have a greater role in UK criminal justice after December 2014. Does this weaken our hand? The evidence suggests not. The average length of time that it takes to extradite a non-consensual suspect has been cut from more than a year to fewer than 50 days. The idea that lawmakers would prefer to revert to individual extradition agreements is a strange one indeed.

Concerns around sovereignty are misplaced and over-politicisation is dangerous. Human rights concerns should be addressed on an ongoing basis, with full engagement and participation by the UK in the existing protections for suspects.

Professor Valsamis Mitsilegas is head of the Department of Law, Professor of European Criminal Law and Director of the Criminal Justice Centre at Queen Mary University of London. From 2001 to 2005 he was legal adviser to the House of Lords European Union Committee

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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.