High Court permits appeal against decision to extradite man to Poland

The High Court has permitted an appeal of its decision to extradite a man to Poland, holding that there was at least the possibility of "another view prevailing” in relation to controversial justice reforms in the EU Member State.

The case concerns Artur Celmer (31), who is wanted to face trial in his native Poland on drugs trafficking charges.

Mr Celmer, who was arrested in Ireland on foot of a European Arrest Warrant last year, has been fighting his proposed extradition to his native Poland over “radical reforms” to the justice system in his country, which has put Poland at odds with the European Union in recent years.

In March, Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly, the High Court judge in charge of extradition, asked the European Courts for a ruling on the effect of Poland’s justice reforms.

She said recent legislative changes in Poland were “so immense”, the High Court was forced to conclude that “the common value of the rule of law” had been "systematically damaged" and “democracy in Poland” had been breached.

In a landmark ruling, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in Luxembourg, advised the High Court that it must assess whether there was a specific risk to Mr Celmer that his fair trial rights would be breached, notwithstanding general deficiencies in the Polish justice system.

Ordering his surrender last week, Ms Justice Donnelly said the High Court was only concerned with determining whether the issues in Poland specifically related to Mr Celmer, in accordance with the CJEU’s ruling.

However, she permitted an appeal of her decision today/yesterday(WEDNESDAY) on foot of an application by Mr Celmer’s lawyers.

Ms Justice Donnelly said the High Court’s interpretation of the CJEU ruling was not so “clear cut” that it was beyond argument.

There was the possibility of "another view prevailing”.

If there was at least a possibility that the High Courts interpretation of the CJEU decision was incorrect, then an appeal to a higher Irish court was desirable in the public interest, she said.

She raised the possibility that, given the precise legal nature of the case, the issue was likely to end up in the Irish Supreme Court.

She said all sides may wish to consider a "leapfrog" appeal straight to the Supreme Court rather than the Court of Appeal "especially in light of the impact” the case was having on other extradition proceedings.

Ms Justice Donnelly said the question to be determined by a higher Irish court required “formalisation”.

She proposed asking whether generalised and systemic deficiencies in the independence of the judiciary in an EU member state were sufficient to establish grounds for believing a specific accused’s fair trial rights would be breached.

She put a stay on the order for Mr Celmer’s surrender for 11 days.

Earlier in the proceedings, Ms Justice Donnelly sought specific assurances in respect of Mr Celmer after Poland’s Deputy Justice Minister was quoted as calling him a "dangerous criminal" connected to a "drugs mafia", despite the presumption of innocence.

President of the Warsaw Regional Court, Judge Joanna Bitner, wrote to the High Court in September assuring Ms Justice Donnelly that “any and all such statements” by politicians and the media were “absolutely irrelevant” and had no impact on a judge’s decision making process.

She said judges in Poland were independent and subject only to the Polish Constitution and laws.

However, Judge Piotr Gaciarek, also of the Warsaw Regional Court, told the High Court that it was “not true” for his superior to have said the independence of judges and courts in Poland was not presently at risk.

Judge Gaciarek told the High Court that laws adopted within the last three years and the “practical operation” of those laws by “politicians currently in power” posed “very serious threats” to the Polish justice system.

Judge Gaciarek referred to a number of his colleagues who had already been disciplined by the government’s new disciplinary body for judges.

He said the common denominator for all recent disciplinary actions taken against judges in Poland was the fact that they have been taken against “judges who openly criticise the amendments pushed by the Government and the Minister of Justice” whose aim was to have “courts and judges under a political control.”

Judge Gaciarek said comments from Poland’s Deputy Justice Minister “should be perceived as a typical rhetoric of politicians currently in power, who build their position among voters based on illegitimate and unjust attacks on courts and judges”.

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