Lawyers for a Monaghan haulier, suspected of being "the ringleader" of an organised crime group who trafficked the 39 migrants found dead in a lorry container in Essex last year, have argued that many of the offences alleged against him occurred outside of UK territory.
However, counsel for the Minister for Justice today told the High Court extradition hearing that the legal submission of "extraterritoriality" was “a complete red herring” and the court should not engage in a “fanciful debate” as to whether other States had jurisdiction to try these offences.
British authorities are seeking the surrender of Ronan Hughes, 40, from Leitrim, Silverstream, Tyholland, Co Monaghan, to face 39 counts of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.
The bodies of eight women and 31 men were found in an industrial park in Grays, Essex on October 23, 2019. The migrants had arrived in England last October on a ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium and the youngest of the victims were two boys aged 15.
Mr Hughes, who owns a haulage firm, was arrested on the evening of April 20 at his home in Co Monaghan following the endorsement of a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by the police in Essex and is fighting his proposed extradition to the UK through the Irish High Court.
Mr Hughes and his younger brother Christopher, 34, have been wanted in connection with the deaths since the beginning of the investigation, with Essex Police making an extraordinary live appeal last November for the siblings to hand themselves in.
Their trucking firm is based in Tyholland, about 7km from the Armagh border.
The haulier was joined by video-link from Cloverhill Prison today for the hearing. He is the second man from Northern Ireland to be arrested here on a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) as part of the Essex police investigation.
Counsel for the Minister for Justice, Ronan Kennedy SC, told Mr Justice Paul Burns that the manslaughter charges carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and the count of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration has a maximum sentence of 14 years.
Opposing an application for his client’s surrender to the UK today, Remy Farrell SC said that there is a distinct lack of clarity in the warrant as to whether the issuing State is asserting that the offences were extraterritorial or if they occurred in their territory.
“It is a matter for this court to decide if the offences are extraterritorial,” he added.
Mr Farrell said something can be both territorial and extraterritorial at the same time and there can be competing assertions of jurisdiction. The warrant seemed to be asserting that a certain extraterritorial position existed, he maintained.
The lawyer submitted that much of what was being alleged against his client had occurred outside the UK.
In reply, Mr Kennedy said that whilst section 44 of the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003 had given rise to difficulty in previous cases, most notably in the case of Ian Bailey, no difficulties arose in this instant.
The barrister said Mr Farrell’s legal submissions were "fundamentally misconceived" as they were built on the entirely incorrect premise that the UK was seeking to assert extraterritorial jurisdiction, where it was abundantly clear from the EAW that the offences had occurred within the UK. Mr Kennedy said this was in respect of both the manslaughter and conspiracy offences.
Mr Kennedy said Mr Farrell’s argument “did not get off the starting blocks” and he asked the court not to go down “the rabbit hole” of whether the offences were committed on “the high seas or land” but instead focus on what was actually stated in the EAW, applying the principles of mutual trust and confidence.
In respect of the manslaughter charges, Mr Kennedy said the UK maintained that these people died after the trailer entered its territory and it was “nonsensical” to suggest that it had occurred in a place other than the issuing State.
“The fact multiple places are referred to in the warrant does not mean the offence is extraterritorial and the fact the acts occurred in other jurisdictions does not make the offence extraterritorial,” he argued.
Referring to the conspiracy charge, the lawyer submitted that Mr Hughes, the alleged "ringleader” of the conspiracy, had been present in the UK at the time and he personally conducted an act in furtherance of the conspiracy. He said the conspiracy was an unlawful act underpinning the offence of manslaughter.
Counsel said the “extraterritorial” submission was “a complete red herring” and the court should not concern itself with it. Furthermore, the court should not engage itself in a “fanciful debate” as to whether or not other States might have jurisdiction to try these offences, he concluded.
Mr Justice Burns remanded Mr Hughes in custody until June 12, when a judgment is expected to be delivered.
The warrant alleges that Mr Hughes had unlawfully killed 39 Vietnamese nationals who were found dead in the back of trailer in UK between October 22 and 24, 2019. It is alleged the migrants had been brought into the UK illegally by Mr Hughes and his co-conspirators.
It is also alleged that Mr Hughes had also conspired with others to facilitate the illegal entry of people including the 39 deceased persons into the UK between May 1, 2018 and October 24, 2019.
It is alleged that Mr Hughes "organised, paid for the travel and controlled the drivers who collected the migrants."
Evidence was given at the respondent's bail hearing that €200,000 had been frozen in 33 bank accounts linked to Mr Hughes and his family and that the accused had last year bought a 2019 BMW X5, valued at €108,000, which has since been seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB).
Counsel for the Minister for Justice previously submitted that Mr Hughes operated an international haulage business with extensive contacts abroad, used a Northern Ireland driving licence, has a detailed knowledge of ports, has a history of smuggling as well as access to extensive funds.