German court refuses extradition to U.K. based on prison conditions

BERLIN — In an embarrassment for post-Brexit Britain, a court in Germany has refused the extradition of an Albanian man to Britain over concerns about prison conditions.

The particulars of the case aren’t especially noteworthy: British authorities accuse the man, who had been living in Britain, of trafficking about 11 pounds of cocaine and laundering money equivalent to $415,000.

But the German court’s response is unusual.

“It cannot be assumed with sufficient certainty at the moment that the persecuted person, if extradited to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, would receive humane detention conditions there,” read the ruling by the Karlsruhe Higher Regional Court.

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In a commentary, Jonathan Goldsmith, a member of the Law Society, the independent professional body for attorneys in England and Wales, said the ruling was “another severe rebuke” for the British government’s record on the administration of justice.

“This is an embarrassment for the UK,” Goldsmith wrote. “There have been similar court decisions before under the European Arrest Warrant framework, but in relation to member states with whose records on prisons and human rights we would not wish to compare ourselves.”

The same court in southwest Germany refused the extradition of a Polish suspect in 2000, citing “profound doubts about the future independence of the Polish judiciary.”

In the more recent case, the suspect benefited from an attorney who was something of an expert on the state of British prisons. Jan-Carl Janssen wrote his thesis on the penal system in England, Wales and Scotland, and in court cited his research on issues such as chronic overcrowding, staff shortages and violence among inmates. He also said some cells are too small, too dark and poorly ventilated.

The German court asked British authorities for guarantees that human rights would be respected, in accordance with international law and the post-Brexit cooperation agreement between Britain and the European Union.

A reply from police in Manchester, England, contained no guarantees but stated that Britain is “delivering 20,000 additional, modern prison places, the largest prison-build program in a century, ensuring the right conditions are in place to rehabilitate prisoners, helping to cut crime and protect the public.”

After the German court determined the extradition “inadmissible” — in a March decision that only recently gained public notice — the man was allowed to walk free in Germany.

In a similar case in June, a judge in Ireland blocked the extradition of a man to Scotland on humanitarian grounds, saying that prison policies and severe overcrowding meant the man could be confined for 22 hours a day in less than 10 feet of space.

Judges in the Netherlands also refused to send a suspected drug smuggler back to Britain in 2019, after a court in Amsterdam heard how inspectors had found “some of the most disturbing prison conditions we have ever seen” and “conditions which have no place in an advanced nation in the 21st century.”

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