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Radu judgment: A lost opportunity and a story of how the mutual trust obsession shelved human rights

Ermioni Xanthopoulou

PhD Candidate, King’s College London

 

On 29th January 2013, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) delivered its judgment in the Radu case.[i] In this case the Court was asked to interpret the Framework Decision on the European Arrest Warrant (FDEAW) through the prism of the Charter of Fundamental Right of the European Union (the Charter) and the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

While this judgment was expected to open the door to a more human rights-enshrined interpretation of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), the Court seems to have skipped this chance.

European Arrest Warrant basics

The EAW is the first EU criminal law instrument based on the principle of mutual recognition, the so-called cornerstone of European Criminal Law. Having provoked constitutional concerns for abolishing the requirement of double criminality for a list of offences, after ten years it is still here accompanied by the never-ending debate.

The EAW is in fact a judicial decision, issued by the judicial authorities of one Member State (MS), requesting the arrest and surrender of a person from the judicial authorities of another MS for the purposes of (a) conducting a criminal prosecution (b) executing a custodial sentence or (c) detention order. It replaced a slow and politicised mechanism of interstate cooperation in view of the need of faster extradition in the EU internal market. This mechanism is based on the assumption of advanced confidence between the Member States.

Therefore, the state executing the EAW is under the obligation to arrest the wanted person and surrender him to the issuing state, except where the grounds for refusal listed in the FDEAW exists. What usually strikes lawyers is that there is no specific ground for refusal for human rights violations by the issuing authority, which gives no choice to the executing authority but to arrest and surrender the requested person even in the case that the act he committed does not constitute an offence in the executing state and even if his fundamental rights were not observed by the issuing state or there is a high risk of them being violated in view of the bad human rights protection record of this state.

Hence, a new argument has emerged in the light of the de-pillarisation of EU criminal law after the Lisbon Treaty and after the binding effect was given to the Charter. This new argument attempts to establish that the interpretation of the FDEAW should be enriched by the respect for fundamental rights as illustrated by the Charter. Also, the Commission in its latest implementation report[ii] states that ‘the framework decision does not mandate surrender where an executing judicial authority is satisfied…that such surrender would result in breach of a requested person’s fundamental rights arising from unacceptable detention conditions’.

This view is further supported considering the recent N.S. judgment of the CJEU. This case concerns the EU asylum system which is also based on the same principle of mutual recognition as the EU extradition system. The Court ruled that the Member states may not transfer an asylum seeker to the Member State responsible, where they cannot be unaware that systemic deficiencies in the asylum procedure and in the reception conditions amount to substantial grounds for believing that the asylum seeker would face a real risk of being subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment.

Facts of Radu

So, in our story, Mr Radu was a Romanian national, subject to four arrest warrants, issued by the German judicial authority for the purpose of conducting criminal prosecutions in respect of acts of robbery. As he did not consent to his surrender, he claimed that the contested warrants were issued without him having been summoned or having had a possibility of hiring a lawyer or presenting his defense, in breach of Articles 47 and 48 of the Charter and Article 6 of the ECHR.

He argued that the FDEAW and the law implementing it should be interpreted in view of the provisions of both the Charter and of the ECHR. If the judicial authorities of the executing Member State discovered that the fundamental rights were not observed by the issuing authorities, they would be justified in refusing to execute the EAW concerned, even if FDEAW does not expressly provide for that ground for non-execution.

In a nutshell, the questions raised highlight three main issues. Firstly, they involve the different interpretation of the FDEAW in light of the Treaty of Lisbon and the Article 6 TEU and question whether the Charter and the ECHR form part of the primary EU law. Secondly, the questions concern the issue of deprivation of liberty of the requested person, as part of the procedure leading to the execution of the EAW. Since it interferes with the right to liberty and security of a person (Article 6 Charter and Article 5 ECHR read in conjunction with Articles 48 and 52 Charter) the CJEU was asked whether if this is actually necessary and proportionate to the objective pursued in a democratic society. Thirdly, they ask whether, through the prism of this new interpretation, the executing judicial authority can refuse to execute the EAW in the event of breaches of human rights legislation.

Opinion of Advocate General

The Advocate General Sharpston in her well reasoned opinion[iii] interestingly claimed with regard to the first issue that rights emanating from the Charter constitute part of the primary EU law, while the rights originating from the ECHR constitute general principles of EU law.

In respect of the second issue, the Advocate General argued that the deprivation of liberty and the forcible surrender of the person, following the execution of the EAW, especially issued for the purpose of criminal prosecutions, constitute interference with the person’s right to liberty as it is safeguarded by the Article 5 ECHR and Article 6 Charter. For this reason, it should not be arbitrary. The factors which should be taken account include the good faith in which the detention should be performed, the fact that it should be interrelated to the ground of the detention (suitability and effectiveness), the place should be appropriate and the length reasonable (necessity and least restrictive measure test).

With reference to the third point, the Advocate General Sharpston argued that the executing judicial authority could refuse to execute a warrant, when it is demonstrated that the rights of the requested person have been infringed or will be infringed and, in the current case with regard to Articles 6, 47 and 48 Charter, the infringement should be such fundamental that would destroy the fairness of the process.

Judgment

The judgment did not follow the structure of the questions or the conceptual structure given by the Advocate General, confusing its reader despite its short length. However, this is the least, considering that it limited the scope of the preliminary reference and that certain questions remained unanswered.

The CJEU appeared to accept that the Charter constitutes primary law but, according to the Court, the observance of rights enshrined in Articles 47 and 48 of the Charter does not require that the executing authority could refuse the execution of the EAW (Para 39). The Court attempted to clarify in advance that the Radu case related to an EAW issued for the purpose of conducting criminal prosecutions and not for the execution of a custodial sentence (Para 28). Then, it reiterated that the EAW was adopted so that it would simplify the extradition and for its operation which is based on the principle of mutual recognition, states should have mutual trust. Therefore, states cannot flee from an EAW request (Para 33-35).

With respect to grounds of refusal it remained loyal to the letter of the instrument. It left no space for any interpretation enlightened by the Charter sun or even by the Article 1(3) of the Framework Decision on EAW, read in conjunction with Article 6 TEU and the corresponding Charter provisions. Moreover, in an attempt to deepen this view and further justify it, it claimed that if the person was to be heard before the issuing authority, this would inevitably affect the effectiveness of the instrument. This is because the EAW is based on surprising the wanted person so that he could not catch a flight and flee (!) (Para 41). Finally, pursuant to the Court there is always the executing authority to hear the requested person.

Regarding the issue of whether the deprivation of the person’s liberty accompanying the process of arrest interferes disproportionately with the right to liberty and security, the Court just ruled that it is related to the debate on the defense rights.  Thus the Court claimed that the issue does not necessitate special attention, tackling the request to address the breach of those articles (Para 30).

Therefore, in contrast to the opinion of Advocate General Sharpston, according to the Court the FDEAW should be interpreted in such a way so as not to allow the executing authority to refuse the execution of a EAW issued for the purpose of criminal prosecution on the ground of violation of the requested person’s right to be heard.

Comment

The Radu judgment surprised EU criminal lawyers anticipating the post-Lisbon effect on the interpretation of the EAW for its minimalistic and narrow approach. It was an unexpectedly short judgment given the number and the significance of the questions. The Court avoided the substance of the burning issues and narrowed down the scope of the references, causing further questions.

Firstly, it should be noted that the judgment contradicted the Advocate General opinion and the previous CJEU ruling in N.S. case, where it had clarified that the EU asylum system cannot operate on the basis of a “conclusive presumption” that all EU Member States “observe the fundamental rights of the European Union” (Para. 105). In Radu, the Court, based on this conclusive presumption, repeated the need and the obligation of Member States to have mutual trust to each other, in contrast to the abovementioned N.S. judgment. One would wonder here, whether the fact that the issuing state was Germany in this case facilitated the Court to follow this ruling and whether it would have adjudicated differently if the issuing country was one of the so-called ‘non-safe countries’.

The first paragraph of the Court is also noteworthy, since the Court stated that the warrant was issued for the purpose of a prosecution and not for the execution of a custodial sentence. This triggers the question whether the ruling would be different if this was the case of an EAW issued for the execution of a custodial sentence and Mr Radu was requested for this purpose? Would the Court have defied the mutual trust obsession?

Moreover, the Court, after exposing the reasons leading to the adoption of the EAW, argued that if the issuing authority would be required to hear the requested person, this would lead to the failure of the system. The framework decision’s preamble articulates that the extradition procedures should be speeded up in respect of persons suspected of having committed an offence and trying to escape from justice. This is why the system’s key method is to surprise the requested person so as not to allow the possibility of run away (Paras 40, 41). This reasoning, realistic as it may sound in a Europe without internal borders, lacks the most principal constitutional ground. The principle of presumption of innocence, as enshrined in the Article 48 of the Charter and 6(2) ECHR, pronounces that ‘everyone who has been charged shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law’. Isn’t surprising a suspect with the aim of arresting him, then surrendering him to another Member State in order to prosecute him, without any hearing at odds with the presumption of innocence?

The Court’s response was that the person can be heard by the executing judicial authorities. Someone would wonder at this point which the options of the judicial authorities really are, as the Court previously ruled that the states cannot flee from the EAW mechanism which does not provide a ground for refusal for human rights violations (Para 41) So, the scope of the person’s right to be heard is really limited to this point.

Finally, a question of constitutional importance was submitted which finally remained unanswered. The Court skipped the question on whether

the interference on the part of the State executing a EAW with the rights and guarantees laid down in Article 5(1) of the [ECHR] and in Article 6 of the [Charter] (:right to liberty), read in conjunction with Articles 48 (:presumption of innocence) and 52 thereof, with reference also to Article 5(3) and (4) and Article 6(2) and (3) of the [ECHR] (:fair trials rights), satisfy the requirements of necessity in a democratic society and of proportionality in relation to the objective actually pursued.

This could have been a chance for the Court to throw light on the ill-defined constitutional principle of proportionality in relation to the objective actually pursued through legislation in the context of European criminal law.

Due to those remaining question marks, the judgment was surprising and somewhat disappointing. Trying to explain the mystery of this analysis, we could hypothesize that the Court might have been aware of the domino effect of a different ruling on the principle of mutual recognition, the foundation of the whole mechanism. This effect, given the lack of a clearly delineated ground for refusal for the execution of EAW in the event of human rights breaches, could be an open-ended one, especially if there is no political will to reform the measure soon.


[i] Case C-396/11 Ciprian Vasile Radu [2013] judgment of 29 January 2013, ECR-0000.

[ii] Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, On the implementation since 2007 of the Council Framework Decision of 13 June 2002 on the European arrest warrant and the surrender procedures between Member States, Brussels, 11.4.2011 COM(2011) 175 final

[iii] Opinion of AG Sharpston in Case C-396/11 Ciprian Vasile Radu [2013] ECR-0000.