Thursday, 26 February 2004

Questions (77)

Joe Costello


74 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if only eight of the 15 members states have enacted legislation providing for the introduction of the European arrest warrant; the reason he felt it necessary to ask the Houses of the Oireachtas to enact the European Arrest Warrant Bill 2003 prior to the Christmas 2003 recess; the further reason the provisions of the Bill did not come into effect from 1 January 2004 throughout the EU; if he will take the opportunity to address the concerns raised by Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission regarding the measure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6211/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

Eight member states, including Ireland, met the deadline of 1 January 2004 for the implementation of the framework decision on the European arrest warrant. The European arrest warrant is now in force in relations between those member states. Of the remainder, the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting this month which I chaired was assured that the great majority would have complied with their obligations by the end of April.

Implementation of the framework decision requires the enactment of national legislation in each member state and, as for the outstanding member states, I understand that the parliamentary processes are under way for the enactment of their legislation.

Member states accepted certain obligations when agreeing to adopt the framework decision on the European arrest warrant — it was adopted unanimously by all member states in June 2002. In particular, member states accepted the obligation relating to the deadlines for implementation, including the specific requirement in Article 34.1 that "Member states shall take the necessary measures to comply with the provisions of the Framework Decision by 31 December 2003". It is a matter for each member state to comply with the obligations it assumed when adopting the framework decision. Ireland fulfilled its obligation by having its implementing legislation in place by the 31 December deadline.

The Deputy refers to concerns raised by Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission regarding the European arrest warrant. Those concerns are focused in particular on the need for effective safeguards for arrested persons. In that regard, I would like to point out that the framework decision contains several safeguard provisions, including the obligation set out in Article 1.3 to respect the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the ECHR. In addition, recitals 12 and 13 of the framework decision provide that a member state may continue to apply its constitutional rules relating to due process, freedom of association, freedom of the press and freedom of expression in other media. Those recitals also provide that a person may not be surrendered if the warrant has been issued for reasons connected with his or her sex, race, religion, ethnic origin, nationality, language, political opinions or sexual orientation or if there is a risk of the death penalty, torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.

The framework decision also contains several specific mandatory and discretionary grounds for refusal of a request to surrender, for example, if the person has not reached the age of criminal responsibility or has already been tried for the offence in question, and also provides that guarantees may be required from the requesting state, for example about a retrial where the original trial was held in absentia, before a person is surrendered. Once arrested, a person whose surrender has been sought has a right to a lawyer and an interpreter.

The European Arrest Warrant Act 2003, in particular Part 3, gives effect in Irish law to these safeguards. It is a matter for the other member states to give effect to these provisions in a manner that is consistent with the framework decision and their national legal systems.

I would also like to draw the Deputy's attention to the statement Ireland made at the adoption of the framework decision. Ireland declared that it would surrender persons only for the purposes of bringing them to trial or for the service of a sentence and not for the purposes of investigation. The aim of the declaration was to avoid the risk of persons being held in investigative detention following surrender. Section 11(3) of the 2003 Act gives effect to the declaration in Irish law.