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Guest Post: Extradition, Greek Prison Conditions, and Human Rights

editor - July 22, 2016 - extradition, LEAP

This week’s guest post comes from Daniel Jones, who specialises in criminal law with an emphasis on extradition, appellant and international law.  As with all of our guest posts, the views represented are of the author and may not reflect the views of Fair Trials.

The appalling conditions in certain Greek prisons have long been a concern of Fair Trials International and of lawyers representing those whose extradition has been sought by Greece. Cases such as that of Andrew Symeou demonstrate the dangers faced by foreign nationals who are held in prison in Greece whilst awaiting trial. However, in Andrew Symeou’s case, as in many others, the courts in the United Kingdom refused to recognise that there was a real risk that extradition to Greece would give rise to inhuman treatment within the meaning of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Prohibition of torture). Andrew SymeouThat has changed with the decision of the High Court in Marku v Nafplion Court of Appeal Greece and Murphy v Public Prosecutor’s Office to the Athens Court that was delivered on the 20th July 2016. With this decision the Court has recognised that certain Greek prisons are failing to protect prisoners’ fundamental rights and that the Greek Government appears to be unable to bring about the improvements that are needed to make these institutions safe. The extradition of Mr Marku and Mr Murphy had been ordered so that they could face trial for separate offences in Greece. Each man appealed the order for extradition on the basis that the conditions of the particular prison in which he was likely to be held gave rise to a real risk that he would suffer inhuman treatment under Article 3. It was established that Mr Marku was likely to go Naflio prison and Mr Murphy to Korydallos Men’s Prison. In both cases the Greek government had provided assurances to the UK Courts that they would enjoy at least 3 square metres of personal cell space and that their human rights would be protected.

Nevertheless, the High Court found that these assurances were not enough, and that there was a real risk that the conditions in the prisons in question would expose them to inhuman treatment. The appeals were allowed and the Court made it clear that unless there was evidence of significant improvements to those prisons, others could not be extradited to Greece if they too would be held in one of these institutions. There are a number of other troubled institutions in the Greek prison estate that were not considered by the Court in this case but may be well be considered in future cases.

Why the change of approach? First and foremost, the Judgment of the Court reflects the findings of the most recent report of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture into the Greek prison system. The Committee has for years been issuing stark warnings about Greece’s overcrowded and underfunded prisons. But in its 2016 report the Committee abandoned its customary restraint and painted a picture of a prison system that was ‘close to breaking point’. It described Korydallos as a ‘boiling cauldron’ which periodically erupted into violence and made clear that in both Korydallos and Nafplio the authorities had effectively ceded control of the accommodation areas to powerful prisoners. These findings carried great weight with the High Court, which found that it was not only violence but the constant threat of violence that made imprisonment in these institutions intolerable.

However, the Judgment is also part of a trend among European courts towards accepting that fundamental human rights cannot be sacrificed in favour of extradition under the European Arrest Warrant system.

In Pal Aranyosi and Robert Caldararu C-404/15 and C-659/15 PPU the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that when an EU state that was requesting extradition had failed to satisfy the state that was executing the European Arrest Warrant that it would protect the human rights of the requested person, extradition could not take place. That case was concerned with extradition requests made by Romania and Hungary. However, through its Legal Experts Advisory Panel (LEAP), Fair Trials International was able to establish that in subsequent cases, the German courts had declined to order extradition to Greece, because of concerns about the conditions of the prisons in which the requested person in question would be held.

The decisions of the German courts were provided to the High Court in Marku and Murphy and helped persuade the Court that it was necessary to adopt a different approach to Greek prison conditions to the one which it had previously adopted.

This Judgment should be welcomed. The need to protect the rights of individuals who face trial in another European country has never been more important than now, as the European arrest warrant scheme operates across an increasingly troubled and divided Europe.

This is a guest post written by Daniel Jones and may not reflect the views of Fair Trials. If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +44 (0) 7950 849 851. For regular updates follow Fair Trials on Twitter or sign up to our monthly bulletin at the bottom of the page.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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