Closed door trials, and detention without outside contact, are no barriers to extradition – Assange case reveals.
Posted Under: Criminal Justice
Assange has now lost his extradition case and looks set to be heading to Sweden. Thankfully most people have now gotten over the idea that the acts alleged to have taken place do not really constitute sexual assault – if true, then they certainly do. Yet today’s judgement, over whether Assange should be extradited, nonetheless reveals some worrying realities about how easily suspects can be sent off to other EU countries – even when their judicial procedures give legitimate cause for concern.
Assange is being extradited under the European Arrest Warrant (EAW). This system was introduced in 2004 to fast track extradition between member states. It is predicated on the assumption that all EU states provide access to fair justice, and as such the grounds for refusing an extradition are extremely limited. Last year Britain sent Gary Mann back to portugal to serve a two year sentence for affray. He had been tried and convicted within 48 hours of his intitial arrest. He and 11 other men had been represented by just two lawyers – of whom he had met one for just 5 minutes before standing trial. What’s more he had not understood most of the shot gun trial due to a lack of proper translation. The extradition Judge, Justice Moses, had acknowledged that the verdict against him was highly questionable, but under the terms of the EAW he was powerless to act.
Today’s judgement – published in full here - is not quite as dramatic, but nonetheless should give us serious cause for concern about the EU’s extradition process. It acknowledges that the court case will almost certainly take place behind closed doors, as the evidence in almost all swedish Rape cases is heard privately. Equally the judgement asserts that “in sweden a person detained for rape is normally detained and held incommunicado” but asserts that this is a “decision for the court”. For both of the reasons, any form of outside scrutiny will be very limited.
The fact that Sweden is a rather cuddly welfare state, with a long democratic tradition, may make us a little less panicked about the unusual way in which it investigates rape suspects. But that, surely is not the point. Judicial checks – like the right to be tried in public so that the case against you is subject to public scrutiny, or to communicate with outside world when held captive – do not exist because governments are sometimes benevolent, but because often they are not. And what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander: the lax process by which Assange is being sent Sweden can, and has, been used to send suspects to other EU countries with considerably shorter democratic traditions. Not long ago Michael Turner and Jason McGoldrick where, according to their Hungarian lawyer they could have been held for nearly a year without even being charged (in fact they spent spent 4 months in jail, no charges brought).
This isn’t about some chauvanistic assertion that British justice is the best in the world. If government’s elsewhere felt queesy about sending their citizens to Britain after its 90-day dentention law came into effect, they would have my support. But the point is that within Britain, we the public have ultimate control over the procedures used to try us. Politicians who subject us to arbitrary dentention can, in the final analysis, be kicked out. The European Arrest Warrant makes us automatically subject to a myriad of potentially flawed legal systems over which we have no control. Our police and courts are compelled to enforce the decisions of foreign courts and prosecutors, regardless of whether they cohere with our own principles of justice – with principles, that is to say, that democratically accountable politicians have decided upon.
Not so long ago, Johan Hari argued - in terms typical of most patronising Europhilic rhetoric - that the European Arrest Warrant is a “superb success”, and opposition to it was indicative of “dogmatic Europhobia”. Well, as today’s judgement, the case against Gary Mann, and all to many other absuses of the Europenan Arrest Warrant, indicate, there are many reasons why democrats of all stripes – “Europhobic” or not – ought to question these extradition arrangements.
To contact Reuben email firstname.lastname@example.org