Germany refuses to extradite man to UK over concerns about British jail conditions

A German court has refused to extradite to the UK a man accused of drug trafficking because of concerns about prison conditions in Britain, in what is thought to be the first case of its kind.

The decision has been described as a “severe rebuke” and “an embarrassment for the UK” by a member of the Law Society.

The case involves an Albanian man who lived in the UK. He was accused of trafficking approximately 5kg of cocaine and of laundering about £330,000.

Westminster magistrates court issued an international arrest warrant, also known as an Interpol red notice, asking for him to be returned to the UK. He had travelled to Germany because his fiancee was seriously ill there.

Karlsruhe higher regional court in south-west Germany made its decision earlier this year, and it has only recently been made public.

A translation of the court report said: “The court decided that the extradition of the Albanian to Britain was ‘currently inadmissible’. Without British guarantees, extradition is not possible in view of the state of the British prison system. There are no legal remedies against this.”

The man was arrested by German police and held in extradition custody.

His defence lawyer, Jan-Carl Janssen had studied in Glasgow and had written a thesis that looked at UK prison conditions.

In court, Janssen cited his research about chronic overcrowding, staff shortages and violence among inmates in British prisons. On the back of this evidence, the German court sought reassurances on two occasions from the UK authorities about prison conditions there.

The court said guarantees from the UK of compliance with minimum standards in accordance with the European convention on human rights were required. In addition, the court asked the British authorities to specify which prisons the Albanian man was going to be detained in and what his conditions of detention would be in those prisons.

A police station in Manchester replied to the court’s first request on the final day of the deadline for a response, saying 20,000 extra prison places were being built to deal with the problem of overcrowding. The second request for reassurance about UK prison conditions received no response from the UK.

While concerns have been expressed before about prisons in certain European countries, this is never thought to have happened previously in relation to UK prison conditions.

Failing to receive the assurances it sought about UK prison conditions, the German court determined the extradition of the Albanian as “currently inadmissible”.

Since the UK is no longer a member of the EU, the rules of the European arrest warrant no longer apply. The trade and cooperation agreement concluded between the EU and Britain in 2020 states that an arrest warrant can be subject to certain conditions, and “if there are reasonable grounds for believing that there is a real threat to the protection of the fundamental rights of the requested person, the executing judicial authority may, where appropriate, require additional guarantees”.

Jonathan Goldsmith, a Law Society member, writing in the Law Society Gazette in a personal capacity about the case, said it was another severe rebuke for the British government’s record on the administration of justice.

He said: “This is an embarrassment for the UK. There have been similar court decisions before under the European arrest warrant framework, but in relation to member states whose records on prisons and human rights the UK would not wish to compare itself with.”

The Albanian man is not wanted for offences committed in Germany and the court determined that as it did not receive the assurances it asked for from the UK authorities, the man would not be extradited. He is currently free again.

The Ministry of Justice has been approached for comment.

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