European Arrest Warrant: I’m a sceptic (but not a Eurosceptic)

As I write, the House of Commons is debating the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

Well, sort of. In fact, the Speaker, John Bercow, has already pointed out that “there will not today be a vote on the specific matter of membership of the European arrest warrant”. But Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling say there will. In the Tories’ Alice in Wonderland world, when they use the word vote it means just what they choose it to mean, neither more nor less.

As with any debate involving Europe, there is a danger of it being used as a proxy for the wider in/out debate. Tories are largely against the EAW. Because Europe. Lib Dems and Labour are largely for the EAW. Because Europe. However, you don’t have to buy into the Tories Euroscepticism to be an EAW-sceptic.

Indeed, much kudos for the reforms to the EAW the Government has introduced should be given to the Lib Dems’ Sarah Ludford who, as an MEP, successfully championed the reform of the EAW, noting earlier this year:

“In the ten years since it came into force the warrant has become a vital tool in the fight against crime, enabling hundreds of Britain’s most-wanted criminals to be brought to justice. To abandon it would be would be a gift to criminals and a slap in the face for their victims. However, there remain serious concerns over a number of cases that have led to serious miscarriages of justice, and the warrant is sometimes used disproportionately to extradite suspects for petty crimes or as an investigative fishing tool for cases that are not ready for trial.”

However, it’s not clear that these have yet gone far enough. Here, for instance, is director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, highlighting her concerns:

Now is a good time to remind ourselves of the real injustice the EAW, in its current form, creates. Take the case of Andrew Symeou, a British student extradited to Greece in 2009. Serious doubts emerged about the reliability of the evidence against Symeou and he was ultimately acquitted of manslaughter, but not before spending 10 months in appalling prison conditions away from his friends and family. The case against him was fundamentally flawed, but our courts were powerless to prevent the extradition. The same is true of Garry Mann, the former fireman extradited to Portugal in 2010 following a trial described by British judges as an embarrassment and a violation of his right to a fair trial.

If the Government had succeeded in reforming the system to prevent such abuses, that would be fine. But it hasn’t, says Shami:

Liberty has long called for reform of EU extradition arrangements as part of our wider campaign against unfair, summary extradition. We have never argued that the warrant should be dropped, but we have consistently called for greater safeguards to allow a balance to be struck between the broad public interest in effective extradition and the protection of basic rights and freedoms. Among the protections we have sought is a requirement that a basic or prima facie case be made in a domestic court before a British resident is extradited. We are not alone in calling for change: earlier this year the European parliament adopted a resolution setting out essential reforms to the EAW.

But for all the prime minister’s talk of renegotiation and improvement, the EAW system remains unchanged. To give the government its due, it has inserted two safeguards into domestic law on extraditions within the EU. Liberty welcomed these measures, which are aimed at preventing disproportionate extraditions and the lengthy pre-trial detention of British residents. These are important protections, but they are unilateral changes not necessarily reflected in the EAW system. What is more, the government has given with one hand and taken away with the other by introducing legislation scrapping the automatic right of appeal against extradition to countries in the EU.

There are, it seems, serious concerns still about the EAW: not the principle, but the practice. That it emanates from Europe, that the public backs it, are not in themselves reasons to back the EAW if it can still cause injustice. I hope we’ll hear from the Lib Dems in the Commons tonight how the reformed EAW our MPs will be backing addresses this.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • One member of the electorate not happy about EAW and the farce going ion in Westminster today

  • My understanding is that there is a package of 35 measures including the EAW. The choice is to opt in to all or none (as that is what has been negotiated with other EU governments). This vote is on the legislation required to opt back in. A separate vote on the EAW would be meaningless and misrepresentative of the actual issue before the house, since to reject the EAW would be to reject the other 34 measures as well.

    In that light Bercow and Cooper’s position does seem like an ambush on a technicality – I was hearing nothing about this not being a vote on the EAW until this happened.

  • stuart moran 10th Nov '14 - 10:56pm

    and here we are, as normal, the Lib Dems piling in to defend another Tory catastrophe

    On the face of it this is an argument about nothing much – something that all 3 main parties support

    The Tories, however, do not want to have an embarrassing rebellion on Europe prior to the R&S by-election (you know this one where a Tory MP defected but clearly that is minor compared to unnamed sources in Labour moaning a bit about Miliband!)

    Bercow was quite clear that the vote did not include the EAW – this was easy enough to see from the order put before the house. Remember it was Cameron who said there would be a vote on it……

    Instead of condemning Tory mendacity and cowardice because they cannot trust their own backbenchers not to revolt; we have the LD MPs and the people on here trying to make out it is something and nothing but at the same time trying to make out in other threads that Labour Party is in ‘crisis’ despite having led in virtually all polls since 2010 and, as far as I know, not had any defectors to another party

    What it comes down to is that the Tory Party is in disarray over Europe, and the Opposition even offered to use their own time to have a vote on the EAW and were quite clear that they would support the Government. The Tories were fearful that it would enable Labour to say that they helped the Tories win because of a back bench rebellion.

    I may add that Stephen Tall’s criticisms of the EAW are fair and serious and should be considered, the point of today though was all about Tory divisions on Europe and how they will go to any lengths to hide them

  • Not exactly “Liberal” – is it?

    A corporate tool for a corporate political class.

  • @Stuart Moran

    You stated probably by accident why the public are sick of Westminster you mention all three parties support this law no one seems to care if the electorate care or how votes may be held with free votes instead of whipping. I wish someone could explain how this is democracy. Democracy is not only 650 Mps it’s the 650 Mps finding out what the population think it’s us paying the bill

  • Sadie Smith 11th Nov '14 - 9:46am

    I assumed that the shambles was because Westminster and Whitehall have not sorted out procedure properly.
    LibDem MPs were also cross, though I was not sure whether Bercow had overstated a muddled situation or not.
    It certainly made the case for clear procedures. Whether that would have muddled the law is beyond my nonpaygrade.
    If we get clear procedure…great.

  • andrew purches 11th Nov '14 - 10:46am

    Yesterday in the Commons,we were given yet another inane piece of amateur theatricals that pass for politics nowadays: It really is too distressing for words, and the speaker was right in his overall condemnation of the charade that was being played out for all to see. But, and this is a major ” But “, none of our political representatives seem capable of understanding the difference between our legal system and that of the former Holy Roman Empire that is Europe today: and that is that our legal system is based on the concept of ” Common Law”, whereby,amongst other characteristics, a citizen is innocent until proven guilty and with Europe, under the lead weight of ” Roman Law “. its citizens are,once accused, guilty until innocence has been proven by that self same person’s legal defence. Until this anomaly is put right, then,I suggest,that a wholesale adoption of all things euro pean that is based upon the concept of “Roman Law ” should be very carefully considered, and subject to a final word from our own courts before any arrest warrant is granted here in the U.K. It should not be a politically inspired action at all.

  • Malcolm Todd 11th Nov '14 - 10:58am

    andrew purches said ” under the lead weight of ‘Roman Law’ its citizens are,once accused, guilty until innocence has been proven by that self same person’s legal defence”.

    But that’s just not true, as 5 minutes with Google would have told you:

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Nov '14 - 11:42am


    You stated probably by accident why the public are sick of Westminster you mention all three parties support this law no one seems to care if the electorate care or how votes may be held with free votes instead of whipping.

    But what is the electorate’s view on this issue?

    Is it really the case that all the people in this country have sat down and carefully though through the European Arrest Warrant, and made a firm decision on what they want on that basis?

    No, of course not. I would imagine most people in this country don’t even know what it is, and certainly wouldn’t know the details of how it works. Like much else regarding the EU, any attempt to gauge public opinion has to deal with the fact that most people in this country view the EU through the anti-EU image being pushed out by much of the press, and because they link it to immigration, and they don’t like immigration, so from this they tend to think anything connected to the EU is a bad thing.

    So, on the EAW, a one-sided account of it can be put out by anti-EU types, and people asked their opinion of it on that basis, and an opinion poll put together with the headline “Politicians ignore the people’s wishes: boo, hiss, nasty rotten politicians”.

    But, ok, imagine another scenario. Imagine the Conservative Party is pushing through acceptance of the EAW, the Liberal Democrats making a principled stand against it for all the reason Stephen Tall outlines, and Labour as usual couldn’t be bothered actually to say anything much except “nah nah nah nah nah, nasty dirty rotten Liberal Democrats”.

    What then would then would be the public’s view on the EAW? How would the Daily Mail and so on report it?
    It would be full of stories about the LibDems being the friends of criminals, about child abusers and drug smugglers and rapists and so on all going free, or flocking to the UK, if the LibDems had their way. And if the LibDems turned round to try and get Labour support on this principled issue? Well, all they’d get is “nah nah nah nah nah, nasty dirty rotten Liberal Democrats, friends of the criminals, and did we forget to mention tuition fees? Oh we did, so here we are again, tuition fees. Nah nah nah nah nah”.

    OK, so now what would be the result of the opinion poll on the EAW? I think you would find though the facts hadn’t changed, public opinion would be remarkably different.

    A fun game to play is to pick an issue and write the Daily Mail article if they’d chosen to take one side on it, and the Daily Mail article if they’d chosen to take the other. It can often seem a bit random which one they’ll do, rather like their on-going project to divide all substances into ones which cause cancer and ones which cure cancer. However, you’ll find whichever the underlying tone will be the same, the usual “all politicians are bad, but left wing ones are much worse” line with heavy doses of populist conspiracy theory, and promotion of various celebrities and right-wing head-cases as plucky champions of the people against the “elite” (i.e. us, especially).

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Nov '14 - 1:46pm

    Politicians are corrupt. Killing businesses whilst abandoning votes. A lot of good will is lost after the payday loan “ban”, throwing finance workers into prison for fraud and the House of Commons acting like they live in a parallel universe.

  • Whatever the merits or demerits of the EAW (my own position is to accept the overwhelming view of the judicial community that the merits win ) there can be no question as to what happened in the Commons yesterday – a blue funk by the Tory leadership that they might demonstrate divisions just before the Rochester by-election. There has never been any doubt that the EAW would survive any parliamentary vote and even the scale of Tory revolt must be in question, judging by the 30 odd vote against the motion which was put last night. Pathetic!

  • Most of what went on yesterday is down to the Mickey Mouse procedures of our so-called parliament.

    Even if we stripped away the pomposity that is built into the attitudes of most MPs (a disease that they seem to suffer from within minutes of taking the oath) the procedures are not fit for the 20th century let alone this century.

    The place is still run like a junior debating society in a 19th century public school. Many MPs behave as if they are schoolboys in the 1820s (read any speech by Jacob Rees-Mogg)

    Over the last 4 years Liberal Democrats have failed to make many improvements — although to be fair here have been some. They could for example have stopped the ludicrous tradition of calling other MPs “my honourable friend” which just takes up ike and is totally misleading for any innocent member of the public who might be watching. They could have got rid of the clowns in fancy dress that wander round the corridors of Westminster as if the English Civil War had never taken place. They could have insisted that the subject of debates be clearly set out in a form of English which woud be understood by the average person in the street. They could have reformed procedures so as to be transparent to people outside the world of the Gentleman’s Club.

    But like with so much from The Coaliton Years it is another tale of missed opportunities.
    The Deputy Prime Minister in the early years of this government promised us “the biggest shake up since The Great Reform Act of 1832”. What we got was very little indeed. He failed to deliver.

  • David Evans 11th Nov '14 - 5:42pm

    John, “the biggest shake up since The Great Reform Act of 1832″ can you provide a link? I’m collecting these promises to put in a panto called “The ghost of hubris past.” Doubling the number of MPs in two parliaments will be another.

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