ECJ makes landmark ruling on prisoner extradition

Extradition should not take place if an individual's human rights are endangered by the transfer. [Freedom House/Flickr]

The European Court of Justice has ruled that German authorities should not extradite suspected criminals to other countries, if their fundamental rights are put in jeopardy in the receiving country. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The ECJ, which ruled on case involving Hungary and Romania, opposed one of the core principles of the European arrest warrant as a result.

The landmark ruling, which was announced on Tuesday (5 April), concerned two alleged offenders and their planned extradition to Hungary and Romania. The Court ended up blocking the transfer, given fears that their fundamental human rights would be at risk in the prisons of those countries. If there is a “real danger” present and the defendants face the threat of being treated inhumanely, then extradition cannot happen, said the ECJ in its press release.

The Court ordered the German justice authorities to gather all “necessary information on the prevailing conditions” in Hungarian and Romanian prisons. If this is not carried out within an appropriate timeframe, then German judges will be able to decide for themselves if the extradition should take place or not.

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The case was brought to the attention of the Luxembourg-based court by Bremen’s Higher Regional Court (OLG), whose judges were unsure whether the extradition could take place. The accused Hungarian, known as Pál A., had a European arrest warrant issued against him and was wanted for a string of burglaries. The Romanian, Robert C., is wanted by his country’s authorities for driving infringements. He was sentenced to 20 months in prison as a result. Both men were arrested in the northern German city.

The ECJ’s ruling opposes the core principle of the European Arrest Warrant (EWA), launched in 2002; namely, the automatic extradition of suspects. Under the EWA, member states must deport the individual against whom the warrant has been issued as soon as possible. The measure was intended to cut the long waiting periods that were commonplace when waiting for extradition to occur.

Hungary has been criticised in the past about the state of its prisons. In March 2015, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) denounced the “inhumane conditions” present in some of the Central European country’s prisons, ruling in favour of a case brought by six Hungarian inmates.

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The ECHR heard the prisoners’claims, which included complaints about overcrowded cells and inadequate sanitary conditions, and subsequently awarded them compensation of between €1000 and €26, 000.  According to the Strasbourg court, about 450 other cases have been brought against Hungary.

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