Aussies win the Test

Australia’s Federal Court has refused to extradite a former Serb military leader accused of war crimes, Dragan Vasiljkovic, to Croatia, on the grounds that he faced a “substantial or real chance of prejudice” if he was sent to Croatia.

Compare this with our own legal system, which has sent two Derby men, David Birkinshaw and Matthew Neale, to Riga to face charges of assaulting a policemen, following what seems to have been a drunken scuffle in the Latvian capital, during a stag weekend. Reports from Riga say the policeman suffered “minor injuries” and that witnesses disagree in their accounts.

For more than four weeks, these two men have been held in a former Stalin-era prison which has been described by the country’s own President as “Sub-human” and “worse than a zoo”. They have not yet got a trial date, or a formal statement of the charges they face. It is not clear that the trial will be conducted or translated into English. The Council of Europe has described the Latvian justice system as “corrupt”.

Of course Latvia is different from Croatia. For a start, it is a member of the EU. But Croatia is expected to join next year. It is all too easy to say that EU member-states subscribe to broadly comparable judicial standards, and therefore that any EU Citizen can expect a fair trial in any EU state. Easy, but quite false. My constituents are not enjoying the basic protections which we take for granted in the UK, but which are not available in Latvia — like Habeas Corpus.

I don’t know Latvia too well, but I have spent time working in Croatia. It is riven with corruption, the judicial system is dysfunctional, bribery is rife, and I would not expect a foreign defendant to get a fair hearing there. But Croatia is an EU accession state, expected to join soon. I have little confidence that Latvia is a great deal better.

It seems to me that there should be three tests ahead of extradition:

1 The offence should be serious enough to justify extradition (I understand that under the European Arrest Warrant we shall soon be sent abroad even for traffic violations). In the Aussie case, the charges were very serious. Of course assaulting a policeman is also a serious offence, but this does not seem to have been a very serious assault.

2 There should be at least sufficient evidence to justify the accused standing trial. That does not seem to be the case with the Derby Two.

3 We should only accede to an extradition request if we are confident that the accused will have fairness and protection broadly comparable to what we expect at home. That is the test which the Australian court correctly applied to Dragan Vasiljkovic. It is the test which the British courts conspicuously failed to apply to the Derby Two.

If the test is whether a country is prepared to protect its citizens, it is clear that Australia passed the test. And we in the UK failed.

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6 Responses to Aussies win the Test

  1. Jonathan says:

    I have visited Latvia many times and my partner is also Latvian – I know the country fairly well, and I can tell you that I have little or no sympathy for Mr Birkinshaw and Mr Neale!

    It is men like them, that have given British tourists a bad name, not only in Latvia but across the world. The people of Riga are totally fed up with drunk, aggressive and rude Brits coming to Riga and treating the place with a total lack of respect. The primary reason police stop and arrest Brits in Riga are for urinating on the their ‘Freedom Monument’ (dedicated to soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence) and for swimming naked in the river.

    Now I ask a simple question, if Latvians, Poles, Czechs, Romanians, Germans etc came to a local town near you and started urinating on your local war memorial – you might have reason to be upset.

    I have no doubt in my mind, that these two suspects were engaged in some very anti-social behaviour (be it attacking a police officer or not), but I also know the Latvian Courts will treat them fairly, honestly and with dignity.

    • me says:

      you need to understand that they did not do this offence that they are being accused of, they have got the wrong people. how dare you come on here,putting your ridiculous comments on and not knowing the situation. They have not urinated anywhere. they seem to be blamed for everything that any other british tourist has ever done. it seems very strange that you are the ONLY one that says they will be treated fairly, shows how much you know about latvia and the corruption that goes on there. I am sure if this was happening to you or to a member of your family or friends, you would think twice about your thoughts. You need to get your facts right. You know nothing about whats going on, so dont comment until you go and find out the facts.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Simple question – how do you know they did not carry out the offence they are being held for? It is entirely fair for them to be arrested, charged and a trial held to determine their guilt. Lets be clear, they refused to pay the fine imposed on them and fled the country, therefore, they should face the consequences! The British public would expect no less if a Latvian came and did the same in London.

  3. Hedley Lester says:

    Jonathan you are right to question how Roger can know that these men did not commit the offence of which they are accused.

    That, however, is not the point.

    It is the first duty of any state to protect its own citizens.

    If it is true, as we hear the EU officials and their puppets/puppeteers in our own governmental structures declare over and over again that the EU is not a country in it’s own right and does not intend to become one (even when ‘Lisbon’ is in force) but merely a collection of states working together in cooperation for their mutual benefit, then it is still the duty of the UK government to protect these men against any potentially unfair or unjust call for them to stand trial in a foreign state.

    The old British extradition procedure (prior to the EU arrest warrant etc. coming into force here) would not prevent subjects of the Crown from being tried for such an offence committed in a foreign country if the courts in this country were satisfied that there existed demonstrable evidence that the alleged offence had taken place and that the call for extradition were reasonable and just.

    The point is that these checks and balances have been removed and permit any British subject to be effectively at the mercy of a number of foreign powers: places, in many cases as you rightly point out about Latvia, where the general attitude towards Britons (regrettably much of our own making) is not always one of the greatest respect. It might therefore be a reasonable assumption that they are less likely to meet with an unbiased process than in this country – especially as it will probably proceed in a language that they are probably not familiar with.

    There is now, however, no procedure in place for the UK government to render these men the protection that is its first duty to provide.

  4. Andrew Turvey says:

    We’re living in an increasingly globalised world. More and more people are holidaying, working and living temporarily in foreign countries. Inevitably this means more people will commit crimes in countries they don’t live in.

    Do we really want to continue with the near impunity we have at the moment, where most crimes go unpunished and the greatest threat is just deportation? Conservatives normally want to see crime punished, so why should that stop at the border?

    • Hedley Lester says:

      I certainly would not want to see a UK subject being enabled ‘sticking two fingers up’ at a foreign government after he had committed a genuine crime in their jurisdiction and thereby going unpunished.

      However there is a very real fear and a genuine possibility that one Englishman facing an entire judicial enterprise in a foreign country that may not be kindly disposed to the British (for whatever good or bad reasons) and whose language he may very well not understand well, if at all, will not receive a fair trial.

      A proper extradition procedure would provide the dual safeguards that if there were no demonstrable evidence of the crime then the charge ought to be dropped and extradition denied; and otherwise that except in cases where it was clearly unlikely to lead to justice being done, the trial ought to take place in British courts where the accused could defend himself fairly against the accusations.

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