British criminal extradition courts are struggling with a 40-fold increase in cases since 2004, the year eastern European nations joined the EU and new rules intended to make extradition easier were introduced.
The Times reports extradition judges from Westminster Magistrates’ Court told a House of Lords committee that since the Extradition Act 2003 came into force in January 2004, the number of new cases has risen from 50 a year, to 2,200 in 2013. One campaign organisation said it can take as much as six months just to have a case listed for hearing.
The stark rise in cases correlates with huge wave of migration to the UK which began when eight eastern European nations, including Poland, Hungary, Estonia and the Czech Republic, joined the EU in 2004.
“The court system is in utter collapse. Completely overloaded. It simply cannot cope with the increase in the number of cases,” said Steve Law, an extradition lawyer at EBR Attridge solicitors in an ITV documentary, Brits Behind Bars, to be broadcast tonight.
A parliamentary briefing paper published in June revealed that 95 per cent of the 4,000 criminal suspects extradited from the UK to EU member states in the four years before 2013 were non-British citizens, with the great majority coming from eastern Europe.
European Arrest Warrants are valid throughout the EU. When such a warrant is issued, member states are required to arrest and transfer criminal suspects or sentenced criminals to the country issuing it. Only 82 of the new cases in 2013 were from outside the European Arrest Warrant scheme.
Critics of the European Arrest Warrant say it is too expansive, leading to people facing a lengthy extradition process for minor offences which can be disproportionate to the crime.
Others say the backlog is in part due to the increasing complexity of cases within the context of European human rights law. For example, a Lithuanian gangster accused of multiple murders, robberies and extortion fought extradition for four years after arguing he was “too depressed” to be deported and doing so would compromise his “human rights.”