Gerard Battan MEP writes about Andrew Symeou
During the summer David Davies, quite rightly, made a great deal of fuss over the Government's Counter Terrorism Bill and its plans for forty-two days detention of suspects. He pointed out that the week he made his speech in Parliament marked the anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta and that, 'for almost 800 years we have built on the right of habeas corpus founded in that ancient document, the fundamental freedom from arbitrary detention by the state". Absolutely right! But what he did not speak about is the fact British citizens can be arbitrarily arrested and detained for six months, a year, eighteen months, or even longer; and not by our state but by foreign states, and there is almost nothing that the British legal system can do to prevent it or protect them.
Take the case of nineteen year old Londoner Andrew Symeou. In June 2007 Mr Symeou took an 18-30 holiday on the Greek Island of Zante. He returned home on 22nd June and told his parents what an enjoyable time he had, had. On 20th June in a the Rescue nightclub another young man, Jonathon Hiles, was allegedly punched or pushed from a raised dance podium and sustained head injuries from which he died on 22nd June. On 24th June two young friends of Mr Symeou who had remained on Zante were taken into police custody for questioning. According to them they were held for over eight hours, deprived of food and water, beaten, punched, slapped and threatened until they gave statements written in Greek implicating Mr Symeou in the death of Mr Hiles. As soon as they were freed from custody they contacted British consular officials, reported their mistreatment and retracted their statements. One of the young men allegedly had sustained a fractured jaw at the hands of the police.
The only evidence against Mr Symeou consists of physical descriptions of the assailant that don't match his, and the statements extracted from his friends under torture. The incident took place at about 1am and Mr Syemou claims that he visited the nightclub at about 4am and stayed for only about 20 minutes. Mr Symeou claims that he did not even know about the incident until his friends returned home and told him, and that he never knew, met or saw Mr Hiles. Mr Symeou was never summoned before a Greek court to give his version of events but almost one year later on 18th June a European Arrrest Warrant was issued for his extradition to Greece.
The European Arrest Warrant was introduced into force on 1st January 2004 under the usual justification of protecting us against organised crime and terrorism. All that is required for the deportation of a suspect under an EAW is basic information about their identity and the alleged offence. There are thirty-two categories of crime for which extradition may be sought, some of them not specific offences under English law. There is no provision for a British court to be allowed to assure itself that there is a proper case for the accused to answer by means of examining prima facie evidence, and there is no provision for the magistrate hearing the extradition case, or indeed the Home Secretary, to have any discretion to refuse extradition if they believe or know that an injustice is being done. The safeguards against misuse are absolutely minimal: provided that the correct boxes have been filled in then a British citizen can be extradited to another EU member state with as much ceremony as posting a parcel.
No one is suggesting that those charged with criminal offences abroad should not be subject to extradition. The family of Jonathon Hiles have suffered a terrible tragedy and they are entitled see justice done. Any parent could find themselves in the situation of the Hiles or the Symeous. Their children could be the victims of crime or accused of a crime. In either situation reasonable people would want to know that there was a proper case to answer by means of prima facie evidence being examined by a British court before extradition was allowed. Especially since under continental systems of justice suspects may languish in prison for months and even years while the crime is being investigated.
And that fate may now await Mr Symeou. The magistrate at the preliminary hearing on 7th July at the Horseferry Road Magistrates Court made it plain that he had no power to consider the evidence against Mr Symeou, or the methods by which it was obtained from the witnesses, before agreeing to extradition. Even if the Home Secretary knows that there is no real case to answer and that a British citizen may be robbed of years of liberty, and have their lives destroyed, he has no legal right to prevent it: so much for Magna Carta and habeas corpus. British citizens now have no protection against arbitrary arrest and detention by foreign states - provided they are members of the European Union: and of course we have similar extradition arrangements with the USA - except of course that it is a one way process only, since they would never allow their own citizens to treated in that way.
Unfortunately that is not all. On 2nd September last the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of new arrangements for the mutual recognition of court decisions rendered in absentia, which will come into force following a decision by the European Council, probably by the end of this year. British citizens may be tried in their absence, perhaps without even knowing this has happened, they can then extradited to face prison sentences already imposed, or the British Government can be required to impose fines or confiscation orders imposed on British citizens. And this is an obligation we will owe to countries in the European Union that are by-words for corruption and illegality such as Bulgaria and Romania, and goes down the level of traffic offences with fines of €70.
How did we get into this state? The politicians entrusted by the electorate with protecting their freedoms and liberties under the law have abandoned that trust and sold us down the river in the cause of 'ever closer union'. This now means 'harmonisation' of our legal system along with everything else. David Davies opposition to 42 days detention was an empty gesture when any British citizen can be carted off to any other European Country for months or years of imprisonment without a British court satisfying itself that justice is being done or being able to prevent injustice being done.