There have been two prominent stories in Derby recently, both of which relate to sending suspects or criminals from one country to another.
There are the “Derby Two”, David Birkinshaw and Matthew Neale, accused in Riga, Latvia, on very tenuous evidence, of assaulting an auxiliary policeman, and sent off to Riga under the terms of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW). They were held in appalling conditions for an indefinite period, and denied the rights which we take for granted in Britain. Acquitted last year, they now have to go back to Riga for a second time, because the prosecutor has decided to appeal against the acquittal. The next hearing is in Riga on May 27th, and I may well be there to support them.
Then we have Mr. Richard Guelbert, a convicted rapist on the Sex Offenders’ Register, who has broken the terms of his conditional release, and fled to Switzerland. The Derby Constabulary want him back, but since Switzerland has no Sex Offenders’ Register, they do not recognise failure to sign on to it as a criminal offence, and therefore they are not prepared to extradite him. Of course the EAW does not apply here, since Switzerland has wisely decided not to join the EU.
I have said that I should like to see Mr. Guelbert returned to Derby, and I have written to the Swiss Ambassador to ask if he can see any way to achieve this.
However I have attracted criticism for what is seen as an inconsistency: in the case of the Derby Two, I opposed their being sent to Riga under the terms of the EAW; while in the case of Mr. Guelbert, I have called for him to be extradited.
I could reply that there is a clear difference between, on the one hand, sending two suspects to a foreign country, and on the other hand, bringing a convicted rapist back to his own country. But it is more fundamental than that. Conventional extradition is quite a different thing from the EAW. With extradition, there is a range of safeguards for the citizen. In particular, a UK court has to agree that there is a material case to answer before allowing extradition, and may form a view about the reliability of the judicial system in the other country.
But with the EAW, the safeguards are set aside, and grave injustices can follow, as we see in the cases of David Birkinshaw and Matthew Neale. Not just they, but any one of us, on the whim of a foreign magistrate, can be dragged off to jail in Latvia, or Bulgaria, or (in future, perhaps) Croatia or Turkey, and we have no protection at all.
So I make no apology and recognise no inconsistency. I support extradition, with proper safeguards for the citizen, and I should like to use it to try to find a way to return Mr. Guelbert from Switzerland to UK custody before he re-offends. But I remain adamantly opposed to the EAW, which is a grave threat to our historic British liberties.