By Ruaidhrí Giblin
A civil society group has applied to join High Court proceedings in which an Irish judge has asked the European Courts to rule on whether mutual trust continues to exist between Poland and other Member States in EU extradition cases.
Fair Trial Europe, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) whose stated goal is to "defend the human right to a fair trial", has applied to join High Court extradition proceedings involving Artur Celmer, who is wanted to face trial in his native Poland on drug trafficking charges.
The proposed surrender of Mr Celmer, who was arrested in Ireland on foot of a European Arrest Warrant last May, was referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) last week for a ruling on the effect of recent legislative changes in Poland concerning the Polish judiciary, courts and public prosecutor.
In her decision to refer the case to Europe, Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly said a number of recent legislative changes in Poland were “so immense” that the High Court was forced to conclude that the rule of law in Poland had been “systematically damaged”.
Ms Justice Donnelly received suggested questions to send to Europe from the parties today although the precise wording of the question is a matter for her. She said she would conclude all matters by the end of this week adding that she wouldn't delay matters any further.
The proposed questions centre on which legal tests apply where the High Court, as an executing judicial authority, has found that the common value of the rule of law in Poland has been systemically breached.
A representative from the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Dublin was present in court for the matter.
Also in court were lawyers for Fair Trial Europe, a non-governmental organisation, who made an application to join proceedings as an 'amicus curiae' or friend of the court to assist matters.
Counsel for Fair Trial Europe, Brian Gageby BL, told Ms Justice Donnelly that his client wished to become involved in the matter when it goes before the CJEU and to provide assistance in terms of the questions being asked.
Mr Gageby said he fully appreciated the timing of the application, coming in at the “tail end of the case”. He said his client did not wish to meddle in proceedings. Their desired intention was to assist the CJEU, whether the NGO was permitted to be joined as an 'amicus curiae' or not.
Mr Gageby said the question was one of utility and what the proposed 'amicus curiae' could add to the proceedings.
Referring to an unsuccessful attempt by a “pro-life group” to join a recent Supreme Court case, Mr Gageby said it was held that the proposed 'amicus curiae' in that case had not indicated what they were “bringing to bear” in those proceedings.
He said Fair Trial Europe was an organisation with very considerable experience in dealing with the questions that were before the court in a pan-European context.
Counsel for the Minister for Justice, Remy Farrell SC, said Fair Trial Europe's application had been made at the 11th hour. That militated against allowing the NGO to be joined when an urgent preliminary ruling procedure was being contemplated.
Mr Farrell said the rules of the CJEU clearly stated that a person or body, who is not a party to the original proceedings before the domestic courts, cannot apply to be joined to proceedings in the CJEU.
He said it was difficult to understand what kind of unique perspective Fair Trial Europe could bring when their expertise related to the analysis and monitoring of trials after people had been surrendered or extradited. That was “precisely the issue that's missing in this case,” referring to the fact Mr Celmer has not been surrendered or extradited.
Ms Justice Donnelly said she was going to consider all of the issues before her and wouldn't delay matters any further. She said she would send the referral to Europe “as soon as possible”.
She said the application by Fair Trial Europe to join proceedings had, in one sense, caused a delay because the court had to consider the matter but the NGO was entitled to a ruling.
She said she would conclude all issues by the end of this week.
Mr Celmer was remanded until July 23 next with liberty to bring the matter forward pending a decision from the CJEU.
Ms Justice Donnelly asked Mr Farrell how many Polish European Arrest Warrants were directly affected by this issue and, in particular, how many affected people were in custody.
Since her ruling, a distinction has been made between persons wanted in Poland for prosecution and persons wanted who had already been convicted and/or sentenced. (Since her ruling, a number of people have been surrendered to Poland but only those who were already convicted and/or sentenced).
Mr Farrell said it should be possible to provide the court with some figures in that regard.