This morning in Brussels, I attended a breakfast meeting organised by the European Policy Centre in the Berlaymont Hotel, Boulevard Charlemagne, Brussels. The speaker was Viviane Reding, the EU’s Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. I took the opportunity to raise the question of two of my constituents.
The Derby Two, David Birkinshaw and Matthew Neale, were accused of involvement in an incident in Riga, Latvia, early last year, and were sent to Riga last summer on a European Arrest Warrant. They were held in a Stalin-era prison for nearly three months, before being acquitted for lack of evidence. Returning to Derby with huge relief, David Birkinshaw started to re-instate wedding plans with his partner Rachel Gee, which had been put on hold by the Arrest Warrant. Then, to their horror, they were told that the Latvian prosecutor was appealing against the acquittal, and they had to return to Riga.
They will be going back to Latvia next week for a hearing on March 25th, and I plan to fly to Latvia to support them.
At the breakfast meeting, Commissioner Reding talked of her ambitious and aspirational plans for EU-wide justice and citizens’ rights. EU citizens would enjoy far greater rights than they had under national laws, she said.
I managed to get in the first question, and as near as I remember it went something like this:
“Thank you Chairman. May I too thank the Commissioner for coming to address us today. Madame Commissioner, we have heard a lot about your aspirational plans for freedom and justice for all EU citizens. But our experience in the UK is rather different. We had a national justice system that worked fairly well, and we find that the introduction of the European Arrest Warrant has led to great injustices.
Next week, I shall be going to Riga, Latvia, to support two of my constituents. They were accused of involvement in an incident in the city early last year. They were sent to Riga on a European Arrest Warrant last summer, and held for nearly three months. They were then acquitted for lack of evidence. Now the Latvian prosecutor has appealed against the acquittal, and they are going back to face trial a second time. They have been denied the historic British legal right of Habeas Corpus. They have been subjected, in effect, to double jeopardy. What can you do to resolve this problem?
In conclusion, Commissioner, you said that European citizens were crying out for a new European Justice System. I have been representing more than four million “European citizens” for more than ten years, and during that time not one — not one! — has ever asked me about a European Justice System. What is your basis for claiming that they are crying out for it?”
Reding’s answer was that all these problems would be solved, eventually, by the reforms she proposed to make in her new five-year term. She had no answer to give to the Derby Two next week, nor did she recognise that perhaps the EU should have harmonised standards of justice before introducing the European Arrest Warrant.
I also raised the scandal of Spanish property scams, which have see British retirees in their Spanish retirement homes waking up to find an eviction notice on the mat and a bulldozer at the gates, and left them with their life savings turned to rubble.
I was delighted to have the opportunity of raising with the Commissioner these key issues, which are of huge concern to the individuals affected. In return, I got vague aspirational promises about long-term improvements, but no solutions or reassurances for the problems faced by the Derby Two next week.