The issuing of a European arrest warrant for Julian Assange raises concerns about this form of xtradiction.
Julian Assange does not readily attract sympathy. The Wikileaks founder evinces a self-righteousness that grates with all but his most ardent supporters. Yet when it comes to the efforts of Sweden to extradite him from Britain under a European arrest warrant, Mr Assange has some strong points in his favour.
Yesterday, the High Court ruled that he should be removed to face charges of alleged sexual assault. The judges said that since they were satisfied the accusations were fair and would amount to a crime in Britain, the extradition should proceed – though there may yet be a further appeal to the Supreme Court. What the courts cannot do, however, is consider whether prima facie evidence exists that a crime has been committed. This was a fundamental principle of English law until 2004, when the European arrest warrant came into force, but has been dispensed with in order to expedite the extradition process.
The problem with these warrants is that they assume the legal systems of all the signatories share the same safeguards and reflect the same cultural priorities. But they don’t. Worse, the system was agreed by Tony Blair with barely any parliamentary debate: he seemed keener on European judicial integration than on preserving the basis of our law.
In June, a parliamentary committee urged the Government to renegotiate the European arrest warrant to “correct a number of serious problems”, including some that have arisen since the expansion of the EU to include former members of the Soviet bloc. Last month, a review chaired by Sir Scott Baker concluded that the system was working “reasonably well”, but accepted that improvements could be made. Certainly, the Assange case has raised enough concerns to merit a serious look at reform.