What are the limits of extradition law in the EU?
 
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What are the limits of extradition law in the EU?

27/5/21
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When it comes to one EU state requesting the extradition of an individual from another EU state, the request is virtually always accepted.

However, on the 8th of January 2021, an Appeal Court in Belgium upheld a ruling that rejected the extradition of a former minister, Lluis Puig, to Spain.

The allegations that Spain holds against Puig, Catalonia’s ex Minister of Culture, are the misuse of public funds during his 2017 campaign and his role in the independence referendum.

Based on those allegations, which also constitute a criminal offense in Belgium, the usual course of business would be for Belgium to grant the extradition request so that Puig can be tried in his home country, where the offence was allegedly committed.

What are the limits of extradition law in the EU?

In an exceptionally rare occurrence, the extradition was rejected. Puig’s lawyers explained that the Belgian judges believed the Spanish Supreme Court did not have the authority to request the extradition and try him, arguing that this must be done by a Catalan court, and feared that his presumption of innocence was at risk in Spain.

The decision of the Belgian court has raised controversy. On the one hand, Javier Zaragoza, one of the prosecutors, disagreed with the judges, stating that the decision was “completely arbitrary and unfounded”.

On the other hand, Gonzalo Boye, one of Puig’s lawyers shared his view that

“this is a very good decision for the other defendants in the trial, because it shows that they have not been subjected to fair trials.”

Lluis Puig is one of the many individuals who face or have faced criminal prosecution by Spain following the fight for Catalonia’s independence. One cannot help but wonder whether the Belgian judges, in refusing the extradition, believed Spain’s request to be politically motivated. And if this is indeed the case, would this put a damper on the relationship between the two countries?

Will this decision from now on affect the extradition practices between EU countries?

The Belgian decision has raised alarm bells for the Spanish Supreme Court as it wishes to request the extradition of three more pro-independence leaders (Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí), two of which are currently in Belgium.

Whilst the European Parliament has already moved to strip the Members of Parliament in question of their immunity, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is yet to respond to the Spanish Supreme Court questions and clarifications on EU extradition law.

The CJEU’s response is instrumental in the development of the extradition rulings not just in Belgium, but Europe-wide.

Whilst the CJEU is yet to issue a judgment on this case, another recent decision coming from the same court could set a precedent.

This case concerned the extradition of a German national to the United States on grounds of corruption, but the defendant had already served his sentence. The CJEU ruled in favour of the defendant on the legal principle non bis in idem according to which

“no one is to be liable to be tried or punished again in criminal proceedings for an offence for which he or she has already been finally acquitted or convicted within the European Union in accordance with the law”

provided that, if there is a conviction, it has been served or is being served.

This decision would come into Puig’s favour as he could rely on the same defense.

 

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