The extradition pipeline

Deportation.  It’s a harsh word, and a harsher concept.

Surely one that applies to a class of people you and I have no reason to encounter.

Surely, we have no cause to look further than the decisions of The State.  Our borders are besieged, aren’t they.  And, a person deemed right to deport isn’t just a foreigner, but probably a criminal.  Or, if not a criminal, an economic migrant, or a benefit-seeking parasite.

However much the rhetoric and prejudice flow from xenophobes, UKIP’ers, anti-migrant lobbies, the catch-all phrases never match the facts, let alone the underlying narrative.

Extradition – the formal legal process that leads to deportation – is difficult.  Not complex.  Because, in many respects, it really isn’t complex – I’ll come on to that.

Difficult.  Because it’s the point where State v Individual stand face to face, where The State’s place in the community beyond our borders, gets mixed up with decisions about individuals.

If, for instance, a person is wanted by a foreign country, should they just be handed over irrespective of why, just because the foreign country asks?  Or, is there a threshold that if crossed, you’re out, on the next plane, whether the country you fly to will kill you, lock you up, or remove any rights you’d have if you remained in the UK?

These are difficult issues.  And issues very much in flux.  And issues made more difficult with the Syrian/Middle Eastern flood into the EU, Eastern European migrants in the UK, and all that “sovereignty” of UK Government over-statement hammed-up in Westminster.

The battle ground in legal terms is Human Rights Act v European Arrest Warrant.

With respect to the particular story prompting this post, the battle ground is the European Arrest Warrant as used (and abused) by Poland.

Poland is hot on extradition.   Hotter than any other country in the world, as far as I can tell.

Out of 41,559 requests for extradition (using the EAR) made to the UK between 2009/10 and 2014/15, 11,984 came from Poland.  25%.

The story I wish to tell involves a Polish woman in her 30s who’s lived in the UK for 7 years as a model citizen, who’s been dragged before Westminster Magistrates, because of a £500 theft 9 years earlier.

The Polish authorities regard theft of £500 as no different to murder/manslaughter, people trafficking, or involvement in organised crime.

Whilst I don’t guarantee it, I’m pretty sure that the Home Office wouldn’t waste the time of Interpol tracking down a UK citizen who’d nicked a box of cream eggs for Easter.  By contrast, I fear if your Polish and living in the UK, if you’ve failed to pay your parking fines, you’re liable to be subjected to a European Arrest Warrant and an appearance at Westminster Magistrates Court.

The European Arrest Warrant is a powerful tool of State authority.  Once issued, the UK Police have very little choice but to execute it.

Once executed, it’s a matter for the Magistrates at Westminster to rule on deportation.

In the case of our client, she committed the thefts of electrical equipment when her personal circumstances were dire.  She was 23, living with an abusive husband, who she had married to get away from an abusive and alcoholic father.  And she had no money.

She’d pleaded guilty.  She was given a suspended prison sentence for one year with an order to pay compensation.  She perhaps messed up worse then because she neither paid the compensation, nor told her probation officer she’d moved to the UK to start a new life.

However, it took the Polish Judicial authorities 8 years to issue the EAW during which time she’d lived in the UK working, most of which as a team leader – a respected, hard-working, reliable person.

She committed no offences in the UK.  She paid her UK taxes.  And she’d never committed any other offences in Poland before she’d moved to the UK, or before or after the thefts of electrical equipment.

Also, practically the moment she was arrested, she put right her failure to pay the compensation in Poland.  Despite this, the Polish Courts have activated her suspended sentence, and have refused her appeal.

She faces the prospect, therefore, of being sent back to Poland, to serve time for an offence committed 10 years earlier, for which she had paid (literally).   When she comes out of prison, she’ll have no money, no job, no family ties, and no life.

For the sake of a £500 theft in 2006, just how does that make sense?

You will remember I mentioned the much maligned, much denigrated, much abused Human Rights Act (which brings the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law).

Article 8, the right to a family life.  Can this help?  Can this allow a woman who should remain in the UK, actually remain in the UK.  Westminster Magistrates Court says no.

The Magistrate applauded the new life of our client.   But he concludes, she  “at large” – a fugitive.  And her offence was “serious”.   Therefore, though he does “appreciate that hardship and disruption to her life will be caused” he concludes “that is not enough to prevent the extradition taking place”.

So much for human rights.

Another argument is the “Passage of time” argument:

A person’s extradition to a category 1 territory is barred by reason of the passage of time if (and only if) it appears that it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him by reason of the passage of time since he is alleged to have committed the extradition offence or since he is alleged to have become unlawfully at large (as the case may be).

This is section 14 of the Extradition Act 2003.  Westminster Magistrates Court also says no to this.

But our client cannot demonstrate that the ruin of her life will is probable “goes beyond the normal and unfortunate consequences of extradition”.

She’s appealing to the High Court