On 29 July 2014 the High Court upheld Raul Angel Fuentes Villota's extradition to Spain where he is accused of membership of the Basque separatist organisation 'ETA' and commission of terrorism related offences.
The appellant's lawyers sought to rely upon several grounds of appeal including a technical challenge to the warrant and an argument regarding limitation periods for prosecuting the offences in Spain. Perhaps most shocking though was the allegation that the appellant had been tortured by the police during the investigation. His lawyers argued that tainted the prosecution to such an extent that to extradite would be an abuse of process. All three grounds were rejected.
The appellant's case was that he had suffered a variety of forms of mistreatment at the hands of the police following his arrest in 1991. This mistreatment included, amongst other allegations, being tied to a chair and punched; having pencils placed in the webs between his fingers and squeezed to cause intense pain; having a cigarette stubbed out in an open wound on his face; being questioned for hours at a time whilst tied to a chair; and being taken to a forest and being made to dig (what he was told) was his own grave.
In the magistrates' court the district judge acknowledged that there was medical evidence that supported his claims in particular the 'pencil treatment'. Given that evidence, and other supporting evidence that such mistreatment was commonplace at the time, the judge found that it was more likely than not he had suffered the 'pencil treatment' but concluded that he was not persuaded the complaints amounted to torture. The judge rejected all the arguments against extradition.
The High Court held that such treatment must be classified as torture and accepted that the appellant was the victim of ill-treatment designed to secure admissions from him. Nevertheless this was not sufficient to conclude that there would be a flagrant breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights owing to the prospective use of evidence obtained by torture.
It was accepted that the appellant was not at risk of further torture on his return but his lawyers argued that it was unconscionable and abusive for a state whose officials had deliberately tortured a person to seek to use the European Arrest Warrant system to secure his return.
In dismissing the appeal, the court reaffirmed that it must show mutual trust for the processes of countries with which we have extradition arrangements and to assume that Convention rights would be upheld. The court was satisfied that the appellant would receive a fair trial on his return. The natural assumption was that the Spanish court would, if there were any dispute regarding the confession, subject the circumstances in which it was given to appropriate scrutiny and exclude it if appropriate.
The appeal demonstrates the high hurdle faced by those seeking to resist extradition and reiterates the principles of mutual trust which underpin the system.
8 August 2014