British citizens can be extradited to other European Union countries with minimal safeguards against injustice something amply illustrated by the case of Andrew Symeou a nineteen-year-old London man.
In July 2007 Mr Symeou took a holiday on the Greek Island of Zante. He returned home on 22nd July and told his parents what an enjoyable time he’d had. On 20th July in the Rescue nightclub another young man, Jonathon Hiles, was allegedly punched or pushed from a raised dance podium and sustained head injuries from which he died on 22 July.
On 24 July two young friends of Mr Symeou who remained on Zante were taken into police custody for questioning. According to them they were held for over eight hours, deprived of food and water, beaten, punched, slapped and threatened until they signed statements written in Greek implicating Mr Symeou in the death of Mr Hiles. As soon as they were freed from custody they contacted British consular officials, reported their alleged mistreatment and retracted their statements.
The only evidence against Mr Symeou consists of physical descriptions of the assailant that don’t match him, and the statements extracted from his friends under duress. The incident took place at about 1am and Mr Syemou claims that he visited the nightclub at about 4am and stayed for only about 20 minutes.
Mr Symeou claims that he did not even know about the incident until his friends returned home and told him, and that he never knew, met or saw Mr Hiles. Mr Symeou was never invited to give his version of events to Greek police or summoned before a Greek court, but almost one year later on 18th June 2008 a European Arrest Warrant was issued in the UK for his extradition to Greece.
On 12th August Mr Symeou found himself in the Horseferry Magistrates Court. The European Arrest Warrant was introduced into force on 1st January 2004 under the usual justification of protecting us against organised crime and terrorism. All that is required for the deportation of a suspect under an EAW is basic information about their identity and the alleged offence.
There are thirty-two categories of crime for which extradition may be sought, some of them not specific offences under English law. There is no provision for a British court to be allowed to assure itself that there is a proper case for the accused to answer by means of examining prima facie evidence, and there is no provision for the magistrate hearing the extradition case, or indeed the home secretary, to have any discretion to refuse extradition if they believe or know that an injustice is being done.
The safeguards against misuse are absolutely minimal: provided that the correct information has been provided (which is minimal) then a British citizen can be extradited to another EU member state with as much ceremony as posting a parcel. Andrew Symeou’s lawyer was only able to oppose extradition because he had managed to obtain copies of the Greek authority’s paperwork and contended that they had not followed their own legal procedures correctly.
The European Arrest Warrant is another manifestation of the European Union’s headlong flight into harmonisation of all things, in this case Europe’s legal systems. This has profound implications for all of us: any one of us, our children, wives, husbands, relatives or friends could face extradition to any EU country without a British court being able to hear even basic evidence and being satisfied there is a case to answer.
Mr Symeou found himself back in the Horesferry Magistrates Court on 30th October to hear their ruling.
The Court found against Mr Symeou, and although he has seven days to appeal, it is likely he will face extradition to Greece to face months or years in prison waiting for his case to be heard.
British courts now have no power to consider the evidence against a British citizen who is the subject extradition under a European Arrest Warrant. They have no power to prevent injustices being done even if it is manifestly obvious that that is about to happen.
In all of this we must not forget the victim, Jonathan Hiles and his family. They are entitled to justice as much as defendant is entitled to protection. But in these circumstances surely the family and friends of the victim, just as much as those of the defendant, would want to know that the correct person is facing extradition and trial by means of the safeguard that a British court can hear the prima facie evidence against them and rule that there is a proper case to answer? Neither party now enjoys that safeguard.
Gerard Batten is UKIP MEP for London