Poland condemns Irish extradition delay
Poland has attacked an Irish High Court decision to delay the extradition of a man over concerns about the rule of law and judicial independence in the increasingly authoritarian Central European state.
Poland’s deputy justice minister Marcin Warchol said by not handing over Artur Celmer, 31, on suspected drug trafficking charges, Ireland was “delaying the punishment of a serious drug mafia criminal sought across Europe”. The Polish citizen was arrested in Ireland last year.
But the embattled opposition in Warsaw and leading lawyers blamed the delay on the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government, whose interference with the judiciary alarmed the Irish High Court into seeking guidance from the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Laurent Pech, a European law professor at Middlesex University, said there could be significant consequences if the ECJ ruled that the Polish judiciary was in contravention of European standards.
“If the [ECJ] stops recognising Polish courts as courts within the meaning of EU law, this could then leave the European Commission no choice but to suspend EU funding to Poland. The impact on commercial arbitration involving Polish companies may also in time be too significant to be comfortably ignored by Polish authorities.”
The court’s decision also means extraditions to Poland from other European Union members may cease, according to Irish lawyers.
Irish High Court judge, Justice Aileen Donnelly, referred to “what appears to be the deliberate, calculated and provocative legislative dismantling by Poland of the independence of the judiciary, a key component of the rule of law”. She said that if Celmer was sent to Poland, “he will be returning to face trial in a jurisdiction where the minister for justice is now the public prosecutor and is entitled to play an active role over the presidents of courts. This has the potential for a chilling effect on those presidents.”
There are more than 50 applications for extraditions by Poland under European arrest warrants before the Irish courts.
“It is incomprehensible that general, abstract deliberations, projections and speculations become the basis of such an important decision as the handover of a criminal sought in the whole of Europe,” Warchol told the PAP news agency.
He accused Dublin of hypocrisy because Irish Supreme Court judges were appointed by the president after selection by the government.
But government critics in Warsaw praised the Irish reluctance.
“It is a sad day for Poles and Poland,” said Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz, an MP from the opposition Nowoczesna (Modern) party. “We were a leader of democratic changes in this part of Europe but, at the moment, we can only feel ashamed that we are being ruled by such people.”
An opposition protest in Warsaw in 2015. Picture credit: Wikimedia