Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Fair Trials International

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th November, 2011

Fair Trials International (previously known as Fair Trials Abroad) is a unique UK-based organisation which campaigns on behalf of people unjustly or cruelly imprisoned around the world, notably those who have been waiting years for a trial or else have been extradited unfairly, or convicted in absentia. Although its remit is global, a substantial proportion of FTI’s work, surprisingly, relates to the European Union, under a project entitled Justice in Europe (part funded by the European Commission). The legal system in a number of EU states does not live up to the high standard of some others, as victims such as Andrew Symeou (who was extradited to Greece and held in horrible conditions before being aquitted) and Edmond Arapi (an Albanian now naturalised Briton who was wrongly convicted of murder in absentia in Italy) can testify. As members of the British Section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) were told this lunchtime at a meeting in Europe House by FTI’s Chief Executive, Jago Russell, many of the cases his organisation takes up are related to the European Arrest Warrant. This instrument — brought in following the 9/11 atrocities with the support of various parties, not least the LibDem MEP Graham Watson — allows courts in EU member states to demand the extradition of people wanted on criminal charges within their jurisdiction. That has produced some excellent results, such as the swift return of one of the 7/7 London bombers from Italy. But it has also been misusued. Poland has acquired an unenviable reputation for using the EAW for trivial cases, such as demanding the extradition of someone accused of stealing a pig. But it would be wrong to throw the baby out with the bathwater — as some Eurosceptic Tories and UKIP spokespeople would like — by scrapping the EAW. What is needed is to make sure its use is limited to serious crimes. Moreover, as Jago Russell said, some EU member states really need to bring their legal and prison systems up to scratch, including getting rid of corruption, nepotism and the like. I asked him whether it should not be possible to put pressure on Poland to curb unnecessary extraditions while Warsaw holds the rotating presidency of the EU, to which the answer was that the Poles would love to, but under their post-Communist constitution they have to pursue every case to its ultimate conclusion. Clearly a need for some reform there then!



One Response to “Fair Trials International”

  1. The EAW system needs much more fundamental reform than to “make sure its use is limited to serious crimes”. The individuals that you cite as victims of unjust EAWs, Andrew Symeou and Edmond Arapi, were respectively accused of manslaughter and murder, both rather serious crimes. The issue in both cases was the lack of evidence against them. Mr Arapi in particular had been tried in absentia without ever being informed of the charges against him, and he had an alibi for the time of the murder (he was in the UK, at work). If the UK court had had the power to consider this alibi evidence, then it would have refused extradition. He was only saved by political pressure being put on the Italian authorities at the highest level.

    I have no doubt that extradition should require the requesting country to provide prima facie evidence, and that the court in the country that receives the request should be able to consider new evidence, as well as in the conduct of the trial (or potential trial). The EAW system was brought in after 9/11, but let’s remember what happened with the first person charged with 9/11-related offences: UK-based airline pilot Lotfi Raissi, who was sought by the US; the UK court eventually refused extradition because it found there was no evidence whatsoever against him, and he has since been formally exonerated (and on the face of it, he seemed a rather unlikely terror suspect). At that time extradition from the UK to the US required prima facie evidence; now it does not. I think that this case shows the need for courts considering extradition requests to consider the evidence against the potential extraditee, especially for the most serious of crimes.

    Other much-needed reforms to the EAW system are to reinstate the dual criminality principle (currently, in theory a country that bans abortion can get someone extradited for this by calling it “murder”; and there is also the case of Dr Tobin, wanted by Germany from the UK for holocaust denial; whatever you may think of the politics of this, it is not a crime in this country), and for a warrant to be automatically invalidated if it is ever refused by any country (to prevent cases like that of Deborah Dark, whose extradition on a 20-year-old drug-related conviction (of which she had never been informed) was refused twice, but the warrant was still active, preventing her from travelling).

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