Lawyers for a suspected drugs trafficker are seeking leave to appeal an order for his extradition to Poland, despite “generalised and systemic” violations to the independence of the Polish judiciary.
Polish authorities are seeking the surrender of Artur Celmer (31), who is wanted to face trial in his native Poland on drugs trafficking charges. He was arrested in Ireland on foot of a European Arrest Warrant last year and his lawyers had opposed their client's surrender over “radical changes” to the Polish justice system, which has put the country at odds with the European Union in recent years.
Ordering Mr Celmer’s surrender last week, Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly said the High Court had originally found “generalised and systemic” violations to the independence of the Polish judiciary which “gave rise to a real risk” that fair trial rights would be breached.
However, she said the High Court was only concerned with determining whether the issues in Poland specifically related to Mr Celmer, in accordance with a ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
Mr Celmer’s lawyers returned to the High Court today seeking a certificate to appeal the decision. Ms Justice Donnelly will give her ruling on Wednesday.
Counsel for Mr Celmer, Seán Guerin SC, said the case itself was an “unprecedented” one. It involved a point of law of exceptional public importance and it was desirable in the public interest that an appeal should be taken.
Mr Guerin said the “spectre” for interference in his client’s fair trial rights was two-fold.
He referred to correspondence from Judge Piotr Gaciarek, of the Warsaw Regional Court, to the effect that two Polish judges had recently been summoned to disciplinary proceedings for referring cases to the European courts. Another judge, in a Polish District Court, had been disciplined for acquitting a group human rights activists, he said.
Mr Guerin said individual judges in Poland now know that making the "wrong decision" could have personal consequences for them. They could be disciplined or have their allowances cut. The knowledge of that gave rise to the possibility that other judges will “simply not respect” fair trial rights.
In addition, in light of comments from Poland’s Deputy Justice Minister, who was quoted as calling Mr Celmer a "dangerous criminal" connected to a "drugs mafia", despite the presumption of innocence, Mr Guerin said "the people in power" were “signalling precisely" their particular interest in Mr Celmer.
"Short of an actual statement from a judge that he's (Mr Celmer) not going to get a fair trial," Mr Guerin said it was difficult to see how anyone in his client’s position could successfully make their case.
He said the case concerned the extent to which a court could go behind the principles of “mutual trust” and “mutual respect” which underpinned international extradition. The question was one of interpretation of the CJEU judgment, he submitted.
Counsel for the Minister for Justice, Remy Farrell SC, said the court should be cognisant of the fact that the case had already been ruled upon by the CJEU.
Mr Farrell said the right to an independent tribunal was "simply an aspect" of the right to a fair trial.
He said the High Court and the CJEU itself had recognised undisputed breaches to the independence of Poland's judiciary. But the question was whether those breaches "must" result in a flagrant denial of justice, and the High Court had answered that question in the negative last week.
He said further issues submitted by Mr Guerin were questions of evidence, not points of law, as was required for a certificate to appeal.
Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly said she would consider her ruling and deliver it on Wednesday.
In her judgment ordering Mr Celmer’s surrender last week, Ms Justice Donnelly said the manner in which “the Republic of Poland governs itself is a matter for the Polish people” and it was the “entitlement of those who are elected in Poland to enact laws in accordance with the Constitution of Poland”.
Ms Justice Donnelly said the constitutionality of any laws enacted in Poland was a matter for the judiciary in Poland to rule upon in accordance with their own laws and Constitution.
She said the only reason recent legislative changes in Poland had become a concern to the High Court was because Ireland had obligations under EU law.
She said the execution of warrants was a matter of “applying EU law as it has been implemented in this Member State”. It was not a matter of applying Polish law.
“It is important to state that it is the courts in Poland and, perhaps if he were to be convicted and have that conviction upheld on appeal, the European Court of Human Rights, that will have to decide whether any trial of this respondent (Mr Celmer) actually meets the Polish and ECHR standards respectively of right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial judiciary.”