The use of fast-track European Arrest Warrants of the type issued against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange came under attack in a debate in the European Parliament yesterday, with MEPs branding the EU extradition scheme "disproportionate".
The debate, called by European Greens, comes after EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding warned in April that the authority of cross-border EAWs was in danger of being undermined. EAWs have been issued for offences as trivial as bicycle theft, removing car tyres and stealing piglets. A report on EAWs also released in April conceded that the system was "far from perfect".
During yesterday's debate, British MEP Gerard Batten, a member of UKIP, asked if "the case against Mr Julian Assange demonstrates the possible abuse of the EAW for political purposes".
The EU Commission has promised new legislation ensuring that anyone facing criminal charges in another member state would be assured access to a lawyer, in an attempt to bolster confidence in the EAW system.
"The law would require every person facing extradition under Europe's fast-track extradition regime - the EAW - to be guaranteed access to a lawyer in both countries, to ensure protection of their fundamental rights," the Commission said in a statement.
EAWs were introduced in 2004 to speed up extraditions between EU member states. Among those currently fighting removal from the UK is WikiLeaks founder Assange.
At extradition hearings held in the UK in February, Judge Howard Riddle dismissed an argument made by Assange's lawyers that the EAW issued by Swedish authorities was illegal, on the grounds that he had not yet been charged with any criminal offence, and that mere suspicion was not sufficient. The Australian is wanted for questioning in Sweden over allegations of sexual offences made by two Swedish women.
Assange's Swedish lawyer Bjorn Hurtig earlier claimed that prosecutors were in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, having failed to adequately inform Assange of the accusations made against him in his native language.