The High Court has ordered the surrender of a Polish man to face trial in his native country despite finding "generalised and systemic" violations to the independence of Poland's judiciary.
Polish authorities had sought 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 yea. 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.
Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly, the judge in charge of High Court extradition, postponed the surrender of dozens of suspected criminals to Poland earlier this year over concerns for their fair trial rights.
Following a referral of Mr Celmer's case by Ms Justice Donnelly to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in Luxembourg, the High Court was advised it must assess whether there was a specific risk to Mr Celmer that his fair trial rights would be breached.
Ordering Mr Celmer’s surrender on Monday, Ms Justice 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 the CJEU’s ruling.
She said the High Court had concluded that “systemic and generalised deficiencies in the independence of the judiciary in Poland of themselves” did not amount to a real risk that Mr Celmer’s right to a fair trial would be denied.
She said the threshold was a high one and, on the evidence before the court, it had not been reached.
“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.”
Presumption of innocence
Ms Justice Donnelly had sought further 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.
However, she said the possibility of a flagrant denial of justice had not been established by Mr Celmer “despite the adverse comments on his presumption of innocence by the Deputy Justice Minister”.
She ordered Mr Celmer be surrendered to Polish authorities within the next 25 days.
His lawyers have the option of appealing her decision and the case will be mentioned before the High Court again next Monday.
In a statement following the judgment, Mr Celmer’s solicitor, Ciarán Mulholland, from the firm Fahy Bambury Solicitors said: “We are extremely disappointed with the Judgment handed down by the Irish High Court this morning, particularity given the views expressed by our experts, the recent conflicting and contradictory responses from the Polish judiciary and the conduct of Polish government ministers throughout these landmark proceedings.”
Mr Mulholland said he had “grave concerns” for his client’s fair trial rights and “well-being” in Poland. “We hope to consider this Judgment in greater details over the coming days and consult with Mr Celmer to in order to assess the merits of a potential appeal. Our primary objective is to ensure that our Client’s Human Rights are upheld and protected – we are plainly not satisfied that will occur should he be extradited to Poland.”
“This is now a renowned case given the sensationalist commentary echoed from the Polish governing party. It is also an unprecedented case dealing with the extradition scheme within the European Union during this turbulent period of Brexit in which some Member States are attempting an a la carte approach to the fundamentals of the European project.”
In her judgment, Ms Justice Donnelly said the manner in which “the Republic of Poland governs itself is a matter for the Polish people. It is the entitlement of those who are elected in Poland to enact laws in accordance with the Constitution of Poland.’
She said the constitutionality of any laws enacted in Poland is a matter for the judiciary in Poland to rule upon in accordance with their own laws and Constitution.
Ms Justice Donnelly 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.
She said European arrest warrants were executed on the principle of mutual recognition of judicial authorities in other Member States. “They are executed on the basis of the mutual trust that each Member State places in another Member State’s sharing of common values on which the EU is founded as stated in Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union”.
She said countries “may not be bound by the principles of mutual trust” where “systemic deficiencies in the common values of the rule of law arising from a lack of independence of the judiciary are found to exist.”
However, before surrender may be prohibited, she said the country receiving the warrant “has to carry out a specific precise assessment” on whether the requested person will run the risk of not receiving a fair trial.
She said “generalised and systemic deficiencies in the independence of the judiciary in Poland of themselves do not reach the threshold of amounting to a real risk there will be a flagrant denial of this individual’s (Mr Celmer’s) right to a fair trial”.
She also concluded that, despite the adverse comments on Mr Celmer’s presumption of innocence by the Deputy Minister of Justice, the real risk of a flagrant denial of justice has not been established.
She said the threshold, which is a “high one” under the law of “extradition/surrender”, had not been reached on the evidence before the court.