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.