Supreme Court to decide on extradition of wanted Polish man
High Court judge sought ruling from European Courts over case of Artur Celmer
Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly, the High Court judge in charge of extradition, asked the European Courts for a ruling on the effect of Poland’s justice reforms earlier this year.
She said recent legislative changes in Poland were “so immense”, the High Court was forced to conclude that “the common value of the rule of law” had been “systematically damaged” and “democracy in Poland” had been breached.
At the centre of the case is Artur Calmer (31), who is wanted to face trial in his native Poland on drugs trafficking charges.
Mr Celmer was arrested in Ireland on foot of a European Arrest Warrant last year. His lawyers have been fighting his proposed extradition to Poland over “radical reforms” to the justice system in his country, which has put it at odds with the European Union in recent years.
In a landmark ruling, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in Luxembourg, advised the High Court that it must assess whether there was a specific risk to Mr Celmer that his fair trial rights would be breached, notwithstanding general deficiencies in the Polish justice system.
Ordering his surrender last month, Ms Justice Donnelly 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.
However, Ms Justice Donnelly said the High Court’s interpretation of the ruling was not so “clear cut” that it was beyond argument. There was the possibility of “another view prevailing”.
If there was at least a possibility that the High Court’s interpretation of the CJEU decision was incorrect, then an appeal to a higher Irish court was desirable in the public interest, she said.
She encouraged all sides to consider a “leapfrog” appeal straight to the Supreme Court rather than the Court of Appeal “especially in light of the impact” the case was having on other extradition proceedings.
President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham permitted a “leapfrog” application for the matter to go straight to the Supreme Court on Monday. .
Counsel for the Minister for Justice, Siobhán Ní Chúlacháin BL, said the State was supporting the application.
The question the Supreme Court will be asked to determine is whether generalised and systemic deficiencies in the independence of the judiciary in an EU member state are sufficient, on their own, to establish substantial grounds for believing a specific accused’s fair trial rights would be breached.
Earlier in the proceedings, Ms Justice Donnelly sought specific 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.
President of the Warsaw Regional Court, Judge Joanna Bitner, wrote to the High Court in Dublin last September assuring Ms Justice Donnelly that “any and all such statements” by politicians and the media were “absolutely irrelevant” and had no impact on a judge’s decision making process.
She said judges in Poland were independent and subject only to the Polish Constitution and laws.
However, Judge Piotr Gaciarek, also of the Warsaw Regional Court, told the High Court it was “not true” for his superior to have said the independence of judges and courts in Poland was not presently at risk.
Judge Gaciarek told the High Court laws adopted within the last three years and the “practical operation” of those laws by “politicians currently in power” posed “very serious threats” to the Polish justice system.
Judge Gaciarek referred to a number of his colleagues who had already been disciplined by the government’s new disciplinary body for judges.
He said the common denominator for all recent disciplinary actions taken against judges in Poland was the fact that they have been taken against “judges who openly criticise the amendments pushed by the Government and the Minister of Justice” whose aim was to have “courts and judges under a political control.”
Judge Gaciarek said comments from Poland’s deputy justice minister “should be perceived as a typical rhetoric of politicians currently in power, who build their position among voters based on illegitimate and unjust attacks on courts and judges”.