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Sarah addresses the European Parliament about the European Arrest Warrant and Andrew Symeou

January 22, 2010 3:00 PM
By Sarah Ludford in the European Parliament

Sarah Ludford (ALDE), author. - Mr President, I frankly and fully acknowledge that these two oral questions tabled on 1 December last year have been overtaken by events, but this debate is still worthwhile to acknowledge that the issue of procedural rights is fully back on the table after a regrettable absence of several years and to stress the urgency and priority of this programme.

It has been a consistent complaint of the European Parliament for the last decade that procedural safeguards and defendants' rights have not received the same attention, let alone action, as moves to enhance the speed and efficiency of investigations and of prosecutions. We have supported the latter because, then, more criminals get caught. Those who reject in principle the European Arrest Warrant are the apologists for mafia criminals and absconding robbers, rapists and terrorists. But it is question of balance and getting 'European Arrest Warrant plus', and thus justice all round, through procedural guarantees to accompany simplified cross-border prosecutions. Opponents of the European Arrest Warrant of course do not want any EU action on rights either; they just want 'European Arrest Warrant minus'.

But the application of the European Arrest Warrant without proper procedural guarantees has in some cases led to the denial of justice, because mutual recognition has not been accompanied by a solid basis for mutual trust. One of those cases is my own constituent Andrew Symeou. Andrew has been in prison in Greece for six months awaiting trial on a manslaughter charge which seems to be based on mistaken identity and, I am afraid to say, police brutality to witnesses, and I believe the European Arrest Warrant has been misused. When it was agreed upon in 2002, it was with the understanding from all sides that this measure, which would have the effect of EU citizens standing trial and being held in prison in another Member State, would be swiftly followed by measures guaranteeing their fair trial rights and guaranteeing there would be no miscarriages of justice. That promise was betrayed by Member States in failing to accept the Commission's 2004 proposal for a reasonably wide framework decision on procedural rights, and now a piecemeal approach is the best we can get. I am grateful that it was relaunched by the Swedish Presidency, but it is only a road map on a step-by-step basis.

We need to see the glass is half full and be optimistic, although I regret that the Council is, worryingly, only promising to consider, not to legislate on, Euro-bail, which would have helped Andrew Symeou, who has been explicitly refused bail because he is a foreigner. Judges are currently asked to enforce the judgments and orders of courts in other Member States without examining the facts, and they will be subject to increasing criticism and public unease if there is no EU-wide compliance with minimal procedural safeguards and defence rights for criminal investigations and prosecutions. It is not just individual citizens who fear poor guarantees of rights; this also deters judges, but also police and prosecutors, from working together, too.

I happen to believe that the human rights assurance in European Arrest Warrants should be an explicit condition of extradition, even if the Commission hates that. Thanks to Liberal Democrats, the UK legislation implementing the measure says that the court must be satisfied there is no breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. Puzzlingly, British courts seem shy of invoking this clause to block surrender. Now if all Member States genuinely observed their obligations under the ECHR there might be no need for EU measures. The problem is not the absence of standards but the absence of practical respect, and many Member States find themselves before the Strasbourg Court for this reason. Considering that the Treaty on European Union and now the TFEU obliges EU states to respect the ECHR, this is shameful and unacceptable. So we do need an EU mechanism for enforcement, which from now on will be provided by Commission infringement competence and European Court of Justice supervision. So EU measures need both to be consistent with the ECHR and not conflict with or undermine it, and at the same time to add value in the sense of strengthening practical implementation.

I hope the Commission and Council agree that the standard of directives guaranteeing fundamental rights should be high. The Member State initiative on interpretation and translation, proposing the text which the Council agreed on last October, is less ambitious than the Commission text and needs improving. So we are concerned that the first measure does not demonstrate the highest standards. I hope we will be more ambitious and set a precedent for the next stages in building up procedural rights, which after interpretation and translation are followed by other measures like legal advice, right to information, right to communicate with consular authorities and so on. So I want reassurance from the Council and Commission that measures in the road map will be rolled out fast enough to keep up the momentum towards a genuine achievement of fair trial rights, long overdue.