The UK’s decision to leave the EU should not prevent European judges from executing extradition requests from Britain before Brexit, according to an opinion written for the EU’s highest court.
Maciej Szpunar, an advocate general at the European Court of Justice, said EU nationals should not have extradition requests from the UK blocked because of Britain’s pending departure from the union in March 2019.
The non-binding opinion was issued after the Irish High Court asked the ECJ for clarification on how Brexit would impact the European Arrest Warrant system that allows EU governments to swiftly extradite nationals to other member states.
In an opinion issued on Tuesday, Mr Szpunar said the EAW should “continue to apply for as long as the UK is a Member State”.
“As long as a State is still a Member of the EU, EU law applies, including the provisions of the Framework Decision on the European arrest warrant and the duty to surrender”, said Mr Szpunar.
The advocate general’s opinion comes after a suspect known as ‘RO’ argued that Brexit meant his fundamental rights as an EU citizen could not be guaranteed if he is detained in the UK after March 2019.
RO is the subject of two arrest warrants from the British government on accusations of murder, arson and rape dating back to 2016.
But Mr Szpunar opined there were no grounds for Irish judges to block the UK’s request in the case and rejected RO’s claims his fundamental rights were at risk.
“The UK has decided to withdraw from the EU, not to abandon the rule of law or the protection of fundamental rights. Consequently, in the Advocate General’s view, there is no basis to question the UK’s continued commitment to fundamental rights”, said the advocate general.
The opinion will encourage the British government which has indicated it will stay part of the EAW during a Brexit transition phase but wants a new extradition relationship based on “mutual trust” with the EU after 2020.
Michel Barnier, Brussels’ chief negotiator, has said the bloc would consider a new EU-UK extradition process as part of negotiations on the future relationship.
“The UK cannot take part in the European Arrest Warrant”, Mr Barnier said in June.
Britain has made over 12,000 extradition arrests to the EU under the EAW system since 2009 with 1,735 arrests made last year.
Sir Julian King, the UK’s EU commissioner in charge of security, has said any new extradition regime with the EU will not be “as quick or as straightforward as the EAW model”.
The advocate general’s opinion will be followed by a full ECJ ruling in the coming months. Judgements usually follow the same direction as the advocate general in a majority of cases.
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