Romanian judicial crisis highlights "shortcomings" in EU Arrest Warrant scheme
February 8th, 2017. \\ Politics. \\ Tags: Romania.

A conference was told that detention conditions in Romanian prisons are one of the reasons for the “failing” European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

Similar problems in Lithuania are cited as further justification for major reform of the scheme, the event in the European Parliament heard.

The EAW was established several years ago to ease the extradition of criminal suspects between EU member states.

But, while it has had some success, the initiative has been undermined by “flaws” which urgently need addressing.

One example of its shortcomings, the event was told, are current detention conditions for suspects in certain EU countries,notably Romania.

Willy Fautre, director of Brussels based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers, which helped organised the event, cited the case of a leading Romanian businessman who recently died while in detention in Romania.

He said Adamescu, a businessman and owner of the RomaniaLibera newspaper, recently died in a hospital in Bucharest while serving a prison sentence of four years and four months.

Fautre told the debate: “Despite his age (68) and his bad health conditions – he had been in the coma in December – he was not granted an early release or an alternative way of serving his sentence.”

Fautre said that Adamescu’s son, Alexander Adamescu, a playwright living and working in London, had not been able to attend his father’s funeral because Romania has released a European Arrest Warrant against him for allegedly being an accomplice in his father’s fraud case.

Fautre said, “Alexander vehemently denies this. British and other media like the New York Times suspect it is a politically motivated prosecution. All these reasons should seriously be taken into consideration by the executing countries which are requested to implement extradition to Romania as long as the rule of law and prison conditions fail to meet EU standards.”

He said the “tragic case” of Adamescu highlighted the scheme’s shortcomings and the need for it to be reformed.

Fautre told the meeting that Bucharest also “abuses” the European Arrest Warrant.

“For example,” he added, “in 2015-16, there were 1,508 requests of extradition addressed by Romania to the UK while London had only addressed six requests to Bucharest.”

The conference heard that the Adamescu case is not confined to Romania as there are increasingly “clear signals” that some EU member states may use the EAW system for “political purposes.”

There are also problems in Lithuania where, it was said, detention orders are frequently “rubber stamped” by young and inexperienced judges.

Germany has refused to extradite suspects to Lithuania because of allegedly poor detention countries in that country,noted Jago Russell, of the UK-based group, Fair Trials.

“This failure to provide humane detention conditions in some member states is one reason why countries like Germany are refusing to surrender suspects. This failing is totally undermining the effective operation of the European Arrest Warrant scheme,” he said.

Russell also agreed that the scheme had been subject to “abuse” and had had limited success in its core objectives.

He stressed that criticism of the scheme should not be taken as criticism of the EU which, he added,had an “absolutely crucial role” in tackling cross border crime.

“While there has been some progress in dealing with this issue, the problem is that the scheme is flawed and this is undermining its effectiveness.”

Russell says the EAW is an “important tool” in combating serious cross-border crime, adding that an efficient system of extradition within the European Union is needed, especially to fight terrorism and criminal activities successfully.

“However,” he went on, “ functioning inter-state cooperation in judicial matters inside the EU must not be at the expense of basic principles of fairness and justice and there are a number of flaws in the EAW system that need to be remedied if we want to avoid future cases of injustice and increased mistrust in the EAW.”

One concern highlighted at the event on Tuesday is that EAWs are executed despite “serious and well-founded” human rights concerns.

Fair Trials says the EAW system “jeopardises” the right to a fair trial,not least because warrants have been issued “many years” after the alleged offence was committed and, once warrants have been issued there is no effective way of removing them, even after extradition has been refused.

Fautre added, “The main question is “What are the serious human rights violations that can be used by an executing country to refuse the extradition of a wanted person?” Two main arguments are usually invoked to deny the surrender of a wanted person to another EU member state: the risk of an unfair trial and the detention conditions.

“That was the case a few years ago when Sweden refused to surrender a Romanian citizen to Bucharest.”

The Adamescu death and subsequent warrant issued against his son is another case.

Fautre said, The question is now: Considering the detention conditions in Romania, should the UK extradite Alexander Adamescu and others, especially in the Brexit context, and should other EU Member States surrender wanted persons to Bucharest?”

Another speaker, Finnish lawyer Eeva Heikkila, also cited the Adamescu case as an example of the failings of the arrest warrant.

She said Alexander Adamescu had recently been detained in London after UK police, who were acting on an arrest warrant from the Romanian authorities. He faces trial in April on “trumped up” charges, she said.

“This is just one among many examples of the web that private individuals can find themselves entangled in because of the supra-national shortcomings of the arrest warrant scheme,” she told the hearing.

Oliver Pahnecke, another speaker, said the recent mass demonstrations in Romania were partly inspired by a desire in that country for better detention conditions for criminal suspects.

Hannu Takkula, an ALDE MEP who opened and closed the event, joined with other participants in calling for reform of the scheme.

Revision of the functioning regulations, it was said, should include the introduction of a “proportionality test” that ensures that use of the EAW scheme is reserved for only the most serious crimes.

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Martin Banks is a highly experienced accredited journalist with many years experience of working with the EU institutions. He is an occasional contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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