The EU’s top court has ruled that the High Court was justified in postponing the extradition of a suspected drugs trafficker to Poland amid concerns about alleged political interference in the Polish judicial system.
The Court of Justice of the EU yesterday found that courts must refrain from executing a European arrest warrant if there was a real risk that an individual would not get a fair trial because of concerns about the independence of the judiciary in another EU state.
The Polish authorities have been seeking the extradition from Ireland of a suspected drug trafficker, Artur Celmer, aged 31, for a series of offences dating back to 2007.
Since his arrest in Ireland on May 5, 2017, Mr Celmer has fought being returned to Poland on foot of three separate European arrest warrants issued by the Polish courts.
Lawyers for Mr Celmer claim he runs a real risk of not receiving a fair trial as a result of recent reforms of the Polish system of justice.
The case was referred to the CJEU by High Court judge, Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly, after she expressed concern that “immense” legislative changes had called into question the rule of law and judicial independence in Poland.
The Polish government, which is led by PiS, a right-wing Christian democratic political party, has introduced reforms of the country’s judicial system which has resulted in greater political influence on the retirement and appointment of judges.
The European Commission begin infringement proceedings against Poland earlier this month after it was determined there was “a clear risk of a serious breach by Poland of the rule of law”.
In yesterday’s ruling, the CJEU said refusing to execute a European arrest warrant was an exception to the mutual recognition of extradition proceedings by EU states. However, the Luxembourg-based court said it was justified if there was a real risk that the subject of an extradition request would suffer a breach of their fundamental right to a fair trial.
It said a court being asked to extradite a suspect had to carry out an “objective, reliable, specific, and properly updated” assessment to establish if there was a lack of independence in the judiciary of the country which had issued a European arrest warrant.
The CJEU said such a court must also assess the particular circumstances of each extradition request and the related offences.
It said recent actions by the European Commission were “particularly relevant to the case”.
Yesterday’s ruling allows the High Court to make its own finding on whether to proceed with the requested extradition of Mr Celmer back to Poland.
The case is also regarded as having widespread implications for how all EU member states deal with extradition cases involving Poland.
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