Supreme Court will ask the CJEU to define “trial” within the Framework Decision on European Arrest Warrants

In this judgment, Minister for Justice & Equality v Lipinski, the Supreme Court held it necessary to make a reference to the Courts of Justice of the European Union on the scope of “trial” within Article 4a of the Framework Decision on European Arrest Warrants. Should trial be interpreted narrowly, limiting its application to a criminal prosecution? Or should trial be interpreted broadly, to also include later proceedings such as hearings to suspend sentences and hearings to revoke the suspension of sentences?

 

Background

In 1998, a Polish court sentenced Lipinski to fifteen years imprisonment for offences comparable to the Irish offence of assault causing harm. That sentence was reduced on appeal to ten years. Lipinski was present at the trial and represented at the appeal.

In 2004, another court ordered the suspension of the remainder of Lipinski’s sentence on condition that he remain under the supervision of a probation officer.

In 2006, Lipinski moved to Ireland, breaching the terms of the suspension of his sentence. At a hearing later that year, a Polish court made an order quashing the suspension, making Lipinski liable to serve the rest of the sentence. The Polish authorities did not notify Lipinski of that hearing and he was not present.

In 2013 the State received a European Arrest warrant for Lipinski’s surrender to the Republic of Poland. That warrant was executed in 2014.

In the High Court, Lipinski argued that s 45 of the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003 (as amended) prohibited his surrender. S45 originally stated that a person should not be surrendered if they were not present at their trial, unless the issuing state guarantees a retrial. In 2012, s 45 was amended to state that a person should not be surrendered if they were not present at the “proceedings resulting in the sentence or detention order”. The High Court (here) ordered Lipinski’s surrender, but certified a question of law of exceptional public importance for determination by the Court of Appeal on whether s 45 as amended is engaged where the person was present at the trial for the offence but not present for the reactivation of the suspended sentence.

The Court of Appeal (here) held that the amendments were procedural rather than substantive, and if the legislature intended s 45 to extend to in absentia arrangements it would require clear wording. Lipinski sought leave of the Supreme Court to appeal that decision.

 

Supreme Court

Clarke J, writing for a five judge panel, held that s 45 must be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Framework Decision on European Arrest Warrants. Article 4a of the Framework Decision, the article which s 45 transposes into Irish law, provides for circumstances where an executing state will refuse surrender. That includes, where the subject of a warrant is sought to serve a sentence already imposed but was not present at the “trial”.

Clarke held that it is not acte clair whether trial in 4a must be interpreted narrowly to refer only to Lipinski’s original trial and sentencing (where Lipinski was present); or whether trial in 4a should be interpreted broadly to also include the proceedings where the suspension of the sentence was revoked (where Lipinski was not present).

The Supreme Court will make a reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union under Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union on the correct interpretation of trial in Article 4a of the Framework Decision.

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