Extraditions to Poland may be suspended EU-wide, lawyers say
High Court ruling could halt Poland’s pursuit of 50 arrest warrants before the Irish courts
Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly halted an extradition case involving Polish man in order to seek guidance from the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Photograph: Ronan Quinlan / Collins
Extraditions to Poland under the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) system may now come to a halt across the European Union, a number of lawyers have said.
The decision of Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly on Monday to halt the extradition of Polish man Artur Celmer, pending guidance from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg, means it is unlikely other extraditions to Poland from Ireland are likely to go ahead pending the ECJ ruling.
Mr Celmer is being sought in his homeland on drug-trafficking charges.
There are currently more than 50 EAW applications before the Irish courts. Some involve people who have been convicted but are evading justice and they wil l not be affected by Ms Justice Donnelly’s ruling. However, the bulk of the applications currently before the courts will now be stayed.
The solicitor representing Mr Celmer, Ciarán Ó Maolchallann, said on Tuesday he believed extraditions to Poland will now be stayed across the EU pending the ruling on the Celmer case by the Luxembourg court.
This is because the rulings of courts in different EU jurisdictions are relevant as they are based on the same European law.
Gary FitzGerald, director of the Irish Centre for European Law at Trinity College, Dublin, said he would be very surprised if other EU jurisdictions extradited people to Poland, pending an ECJ ruling on the matter.
While the decision of the Irish court is not binding on other jurisdictions, it raises serious questions about the right to a fair trial in Poland, he said.
The ruling by Ms Justice Donnelly is an important one in Irish legal history and “goes to the heart of Poland’s membership of the EU”.
The ruling the ECJ now has to make will be one of the most important it has ever made, he said.
“You are saying Poland is no longer a functioning democracy, so how can it be in the EU?”
Laurent Pech, Professor of European Law with Middlesex University, said he expected all EAWs to Poland would be “de facto” stayed until there was a ruling from the court in Luxembourg.
It is likely the ECJ case will involve Mr Celmer, the Irish State, and Poland and the European Commission. Poland may fight to try stop the case being heard.
However, Irish lawyers believe it is likely the ECJ will treat the request in an expedited manner. This means the guidance would be given “in a couple of months,” according to one informed source.
Figures available from the Department of Justice do not identify the number of people extradited to Poland last year, but do indicate that the number involved was larger than with all other EU states combined.
Of 91 surrender orders processed in 2015, according to the department, 47 were for warrants originating in Poland. This has been the consistent pattern since Poland joined the EU in 2004.
There can be multiple orders for the same individual, but it is likely the number of orders gives an accurate picture of the proportion of Polish people affected by EAWs.
EAWs are valid throughout the EU and may be issued by a national judicial authority if the person whose return is sought is accused of an offence for which the maximum penalty is at least a year in prison or if he or she has been sentenced to a prison term of at least four months.
There were 243 EAW warrants received by the High Court in 2016, down slightly from the 264 received the previous year.
Although the Courts Service does not publish a country breakdown of EAWs received, the legal diary for the court that hears the applications breaks the cases down according to language.
The diary for Ms Donnelly’s court on Monday last lists some of the hearings under the language that was involved in the case. Of the eighteen cases listed, ten people, including Mr Celmer were listed in cases involving the Polish language. Four involved English, and cases involving the Hungarian, Czech, Lithuanian and Latvian languages had one person each.
The previous week, Ms Justice Donnelly’s court had 44 people listed under language, of which 36 were in cases involving the Polish language, four involving Lithuanian, three English, and one Czech.
The latest census figures show that of the 535,475 non-Irish nationals living in Ireland in April 2016, Polish nationals were the largest group with 122,515 persons, followed by 103,113 UK nationals, and 36,552 Lithuanians.
The size of the Polish population here is reflected in the figures from the Courts Service on the provision on interpretation services to defendants and witnesses. In 2016 Polish interpretation services were the largest in terms of language, with 2,450 requests, followed by 1,449 for Romanian, and 1,081 for Lithuanian. One lawyer with knowledge of the area said Poland was notable for the “eagerness” with which it pursues extraditions even for very minor offences.
“They are very pro-active in terms of seeking the extradition of anyone that may have allegedly committed any offence.” There is no presumption of bail in extradition cases.