Chris Glew analyses the story behind recent failure by the Estonian Ministry of Justice to issue a correct arrest warrants for couple of its citizens in the UK courts, where the British High Court ruled that the Estonian Ministry of Justice doesn’t constitute a ‘judicial authority’ when it comes to extraditions.
“Why was Anna-Maria Galojan let off the other day?” is how an Estonian friend of mine opened our conversation at lunchtime today. “Because the Ministry of Justice buggered it up,” was my quick reply.
He was shocked at even the possibility of such an occurrence. “It happened last month, too,” I added, knowing full well he wouldn’t have the faintest idea what I was talking about. “Where? When?” he replied, with a puzzled glance. He was sitting comfortably, so I began a narrative (and poured the wine).
To answer the question, we need to familiarise ourselves with a man called Dmitri Lavrov. In 2000 he murdered a patient at a psychiatric home in Ida-Virumaa and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, later reduced to 13. After eight years of incarceration he was given parole but the court imposed various supervision conditions. Presumably unwilling to submit to them, Lavrov absconded and fled to the UK.
So, in order to bring Lavrov back to Estonian shores, the Ministry of Justice issued a European Arrest Warrant to request the British authorities to extradite him. Lavrov, not wanting to submit to the delights of the Estonian penal system, decided to fight the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) and his case reached the Queens Bench Division of the High Court, where it was heard by Lord Justice Aikens and Mr Justice Globe.
Due to the similarity in legal arguments, Lavrov’s case was combined with that of two Lithuanians who were appealing against their own EAWs. One of Lavrov’s arguments (or more precisely, his lawyer, Mr Alun Jones QC) was regarding the role of the Ministry of Justice of Estonia.
The fact is, in some EU countries, the body responsible for issuing an EAW isn’t a court but a body of the executive, as in Denmark or Estonia. In the UK, however, the situation is summarised thus, by the Crown Prosecution Service:
Crown Prosecutors throughout England and Wales are responsible both for drafting EAWs in their own cases and then applying to the court for their issue. EAWs are issued and processed by judicial authorities without state involvement. In England and Wales, an EAW may be issued by a District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts), a justice of the peace, or a judge entitled to exercise the jurisdiction of the Crown Court.
In Estonia, this role is fulfilled by an internal unit of the Ministry of Justice (the International Judicial Co-operation Unit headed by Astrid Laurendt-Hanioja). Mr Jones QC raised the argument that, because the Ministry of Justice is part of the executive branch of the government, it cannot be as impartial or independent as a court to ensure that the EAW is proper and correct.
After much discussion, including whether or not the court was even allowed to consider such questions in its reasoning, the case was adjourned and judgement was given in mid-October. The two Lithuanians were denied the right to appeal and extradited. Lavrov, however, was released. Why? Put simply, the two judges didn’t believe that the unit within the Ministry of Justice that issues EAWs was able to act with sufficient independence for them to be legally valid. The most crucial (and damning) sentence in their summing up is:
…in our judgment, looking at the position overall in Estonia, we are not satisfied that the decision to issue a conviction EAW can be regarded as a “judicial decision” or that this unit and its personnel have insufficient functional independence from the executive to enable the MOJE to be characterised as a “judicial authority” for the purposes of section 2(2) [of the Extradition Act 2003].
My lunch companion then pressured me to explain what happened in the Galojan case (and he was looking a little tired by now), so I explained simply: I have just told him. On Monday, Mr Howard Riddle, Senior District Judge at Westminster Magistrates Court concluded that whilst there were some differences between the ways the arrest warrants were issued in the Galojan case, the ruling of the High Court (a superior court) bound him to discharge the case against Anna-Maria Galojan. Specifically, he said:
The very recent decision of the Administrative Court was undoubtedly based to some extent on information that I do not have. I believe that the decision in Paragraph 106 is binding on me, in its conclusion that MOJE [Ministry of Justice of Estonia] is not a judicial authority. For these reason [sic] I must discharge Anna-Maria GALOJAN.
My position on the Galojan case has remained relatively unchanged (for the record) – I had profound doubts ten months ago about its legitimacy and these recent court rulings have only added to that. It is also worrying to note what further ramifications this might have with regards to the internal workings of the Ministry of Justice. Throughout all the hearings in the Galojan case I’ve attended, there has been only one document that was eventually laid before the court and Crown Prosecutors have had to apologise to judges for the lack of information and clarity coming from Tallinn. This is unacceptable.
There is also another element – both of these failed prosecutions have cost the taxpayers of Britain tens of thousands of pounds in legal fees and wasted hours of court time. So far, the damage to Estonia’s reputation internationally is currently nil. I have a feeling that this might soon change. I should add that at the time of writing (Friday 1600 GMT), the Metropolitan Police have confirmed that no outstanding arrest warrants are issued for Anna-Maria Galojan.
The opinions in this article are those of the author.