Two Derby men, David Birkinshaw and Matthew Neale, have suffered a grave injustice, and the fault lies fair and square with the European Arrest Warrant, which is a major threat to our rights and freedoms under the law.
Readers will be familiar with the story, so I can summarise it briefly. It appears that some kind of incident took place in Riga, Latvia, early last year, during the course of a stag party. I have seen no evidence, however, that any assault was committed, nor any injury sustained. Nor is there any evidence that David and Matthew were involved in the alleged incident.
Nonetheless they were sent off to Riga to face trial, on the strength of a European Arrest Warrant. They were held in a Stalin-era jail, described by the Latvian President as “not fit for animals” – and they were held without either a trial date or a formal charge.
After nearly three months, they were tried, and acquitted for lack of evidence, so they returned home. We can imagine the sense of relief for them and their families when they got back. David and his partner Rachel Gee started to re-schedule their wedding, put on hold by these events. The men could have lost their jobs, but their employers very responsibly held them open.
We can also imagine the shock and disbelief when the men were later advised that the Latvian prosecutor was to appeal against the acquittal, and that they had to go back to Riga to face what amounts to a re-trial. The wedding was postponed again, and the hearing takes place in Riga on March 25th. I intend to be there to show my support for these two constituents.
British citizens should only be extradited when three conditions are fulfilled:
- The offence should be serious enough to justify extradition. Manslaughter, Yes. Dropping litter, No. But in this case it is not clear that any offence took place at all, and if it did, it seems to have been no more than a minor scuffle.
- There should be credible prima facie evidence against the accused, sufficient to justify a trial. There appears to be none in this case.
- We should be confident that our citizens will be treated no worse than they might expect to be in the UK. Latvia fails abysmally. These two men were held in unacceptable conditions. They were denied the historic British right of Habeas Corpus. And they are facing what amounts to double jeopardy – a second trial on charges on which they have already been acquitted.
Every one of us now faces the risk that we may be sent off to jail, like the Derby Two, in jurisdictions with much lower standards than our own, in obscure countries where we don’t speak the language. This year Latvia, or Bulgaria. Next year, perhaps, Croatia. In a few years, maybe even Turkey. Shades of Midnight Express.
We could be sent to face trial for some action which is illegal over there, but perfectly legal over here. And under the European inquisitorial legal system, individual crusading magistrates in obscure towns may get a bee in their bonnets and pursue anyone in Europe that they happen to take against.
This is a scandal, and the Derby Two perfectly illustrate the injustice of it. I believe that an in-coming Conservative government will want to take a long, hard look at the European Arrest Warrant, and give us back the protections under the law that our grandparents took for granted.