Imagine being convicted in a foreign country of a crime you did not commit, with the trial taking place in your absence. Then, imagine being sentenced to six years in prison and only finding out about it years later when an extradition request is received demanding you are sent back to serve your time in jail.
This is what happened to a client of ours, when the French authorities sought to extradite him for a drug smuggling offence he was convicted of ten years ago and which he maintained he did not commit.
Handling the case on behalf of our client was Chirag Patel in our Criminal Defence and Extradition Team. As Chirag explains:
"At the time the offence took place, our client was the boss of an import and export business. During a routine trip to France one of the company lorries was stopped and a large consignment of drugs was found. Our client does not know where the drugs came from but assumes they must have been picked up by the driver of the lorry who was presumably trying to smuggle them to the UK.
As well as prosecuting the driver, the French authorities decided to prosecute our client who was unaware of the proceedings and therefore unable to defend himself. Fast forward ten years and the client is presented with an extradition request seeking his return to France so he can serve out his prison sentence.
Now the presumption in this type of case, where you have an extradition request from a trusted country like France with whom The UK has reciprocal extradition arrangements, is that the request will be granted, and an extradition order made. However, in this case we argued the usual presumption should not apply because if our client were to be sent to France there was a serious risk that his human rights could be breached.
Our reasons for saying this stemmed from the acknowledged overcrowding problem currently affecting the French prison system which has led to inmates being forced to live in, what the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture describe as, ‘inhuman and degrading conditions’, contrary to human rights laws.
The prison our client was destined for was located in Perpignan, in the South of France. We discovered that the prison was so overcrowded that if our client was sent there, he could be forced to share a cell with up to two other people. On this basis, we argued that the French authorities could not rely on the blanket promise they had given in other cases that all extradited prisoners would be afforded the requisite three square meters of personal space every inmate is entitled to receive under human rights legislation. In the case of Perpignan Prison, this simply could not be guaranteed.
We also raised concerns about the delay in seeking our client’s extradition for an offence he said he did not commit, in circumstances where so much time had passed that most of the paperwork needed to launch an appeal had since been lost or destroyed.
Forceful arguments on these points were made to the court during the extradition hearing and, much to our client’s relief, the human rights arguments in relation to the prison overcrowding were accepted by the court as justifying the refusal of the request and indeed our client’s complete discharge. Needless to say, the client was absolutely thrilled, particularly as he had only just reconnected with his daughter and grandson and would have faced additional separation had the extradition request been granted.
We Can Help
If you are facing extradition and require expert legal advice, please give us a call on 020 3551 8500 or use our Contact Us form to arrange a callback to see how he can help. You will not be charged for your initial call and may be eligible for legal aid for some services. Where fees do need to be paid you will be informed of this and a budget can be agreed. Chirag can also help to defend you if you have been charged with a criminal offence.
If you are arrested and require legal representation at a police station outside of our usual business hours please call us on our out of 24 Hour Police Station Helpline on 020 8660 3383.