Sunday, August 09, 2009

Justice there is not

It is a while since we visited the EU extradition treaty, the last time being in 2007 when we reported the case of Joseph Mendy, a black Englishman who fell foul of the Spanish police and the European Arrest Warrant.

What was particularly chilling at the time, with Frank Dobson having called an adjournment debate, was the response of the Parliamentary under-secretary of state for the Home Department, by name of Meg Hillier. "We have to have faith in our European partners," she said. "There are safeguards in place to ensure that each European country has a proper legal and judicial process to take such decisions."

Someone who most certainly will not agree with those fine sentiments is Andrew Symeou, who was deported to Greece last month to await trial for murder, where he was not allowed bail because he is not domiciled there.

This case is picked up today by Christopher Booker, under the heading "EU extradition treaty means British law no longer protects us".

He reminds us that, in 2001, when EU leaders gathered in Laeken, Belgium, to plan their next great leap forward to European integration – the ill-fated EU constitution – they also agreed on what they saw as another bold symbol of their wish to see Europe politically and legally united: the European Arrest Warrant.

At the time, our leaders were fired by the recent 9/11 outrage – or using it as yet another beneficial crisis – and agreed that the courts of any country could call on those of another to order the automatic extradition of anyone suspected of offences under 32 headings, with such crimes as terrorism, drug-running and "xenophobia" high on their list.

Even then, as we well recall, fears were expressed that such a summary shortcutting of normal legal procedures might lead to serious injustices. Not all of the EU's judicial systems (to put it mildly) rest on the same ideas of justice.

But even those most worried about the dangers of this system, writes Booker, could scarcely have imagined a case like that involving the extradition to Greece of a 20-year old British student, Andrew Symeou.

There follows a tale of skullduggery and violence by the Greek police which Booker recounts in full but, despite Mr Symeou's case was taken up by various bodies including Fair Trials International, Liberty, Open Europe and the UK Independence Party, their actions have been to no avail.

With politicians of the three main parties pointedly refused to get involved, in June this year, two High Court judges proposed that the case should go to the House of Lords because it raised legal issues of "public importance". But the Law Lords refused to hear it because it did not raise "an arguable point of law of general public importance".

So it was that on 23 July, Mr Symeou was deported to Greece, where he was not allowed bail because he is not domiciled in Greece. He was imprisoned for some days in concrete cells in Zakynthos, locked up with illegal Albanian immigrants in intense heat and taunted for being British, until he was last week transferred to another prison near Athens.

His parents, allowed to speak to him through bars, say he is not taking his ordeal well. He could be held in prison for up to 18 months before trial, although this week his Greek lawyer hopes to win a further plea for bail.

Concludes Booker, little could Tony Blair and his fellow European leaders have imagined in 2001, when they blithely agreed to strike a blow against terrorism by agreeing to the Arrest Warrant, that this was what it would come down to in practice.

All traditional British beliefs in protecting the liberties of the subject have been thrown out of the window. Mr Blair – and all those other politicians who acclaimed the Arrest Warrant and have refused to comment on Mr Symeou's case – can really be proud of what they have done.

But then, what is the liberty of British citizens – or even justice – when compared with the inestimable benefits of our membership of the European Union?