By Michael Howie
The fast-track extradition system used to send British citizens for trials abroad is flawed and in urgent need of reform, a report by Brussels officials warns.
The report identifies a series of failings in the operation of the controversial “no evidence needed” European arrest warrants, including incarcerating suspects in inhumane prisons for many months as they await trial.
The damning conclusions are reached in the European Commission’s third review of the warrants system and the most critical since it was introduced in 2004.
It finds that the system has “remaining imperfections, notably when it comes to its implementation at national level”.
Problems include “detention conditions in some member states combined with sometimes lengthy pretrial detention for surrendered persons”.
While carrying out its research, the Commission received complaints about arrest warrants from the European Parliament, national parliaments, lawyers and campaigning groups.
Human rights concerns have been raised in a number of cases involving British citizens, including Andrew Symeou, the 21-year-old from north London who is being tried in Greece accused of manslaughter over the death of Jonathan Hiles, 18, from Cardiff, in a nightclub on the holiday island of Zakynthos in 2007.
Following his extradition on a European arrest warrant in July 2009, Mr Symeou spent nearly a year on remand in some of Europe’s most notorious prisons, where he was kept in rat-infested, overcrowded cells.
Last week his trial was adjourned yet again after the court heard that his lawyer had brought perjury suits against two of Mr Hiles’ friends who had given evidence.
The report, to be published this month, also highlights concerns over a lack of legal representation for suspects in the country seeking their return, while surrender proceedings are under way in the “executing” country.
Another major concern raised by the report is the high number of warrants being issued for petty crimes under a system intended to bring terror suspects and other serious criminals to justice.
More than half of the 4,000 extradition requests received by Britain last year were from Poland, which has demanded the return of suspects for petty offences including stealing chocolate and the theft of a pudding.
Every month dozens of Poles are returned from the UK to their home country on a specially chartered plane.
Viviane Reding, vice president of the European Commission in charge of justice, warned the extradition system was being discredited by some countries.
“The European Arrest Warrant has been used effectively to catch criminals but it’s meant for major crimes, not for someone who has stolen a bicycle.