There's a detailed double page spread in the Evening Standard tonight about the case of Deborah Dark, a grandmother wanted in France under the European Arrest Warrant (EAW). The case relates to 21 kg of cannabis that was found in her car at the French border back in 1988 (21 years ago). Some of the details of her case are pretty shocking.
This is a classic case of the 'dangerous unintended consequences' of EU legislation.
The EAW was designed to facilitate extradition between member states for serious crimes, but is now routinely used for offences which were never discussed when it first came off the books.
The EAW was bulldozed through in September 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. The justification for it was that new rules were needed to tackle cross-border organised crime such as terrorism, in the uncertain new world.
The press release from Antonio Vitorino, then EU Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, said at the time, "The European Commission is calling for greater harmonisation and closer cooperation in combating terrorism and crime." Vitorino is quoted saying "Terrorist acts are committed by international gangs with bases in several countries, exploiting loopholes in the law created by the geographical limits on investigators and often enjoying substantial financial and legal treatment between states".
In a debate in the House of Commons in December 2002 on the Extradition Bill ,which implemented the EU Framework Decision on the EAW, the Home Office Minister John Denham said:
"In future, cases within the EU should take about three months, as opposed to nine to twelve months at the moment. The current timetable for bringing serious criminals to justice does a great disservice to the victims of crime... The European Arrest Warrant means that serious criminals accused of fiscal offences will no longer be able to hide within the EU."
There are a couple of instances where the EAW has been used to expedite the extradition of terror suspects across the EU and ensure they stand trial. But there is increasing evidence to suggest the legislation is taking on something of a life of its own.
According to an article in European Voice today, a report issued in May has revealed that while some member states examine each arrest warrant request to check if the crime is serious enough to transfer a suspect to another member state, other EU countries consider such a check superfluous.
The extradition of people like Deborah Dark was not what was intended when Ministers were thinking of ways to tackle serious and organised crime. But that's little consolation - the EAW hangs over her head, even though she has already been aquitted by two different courts.
And so she becomes another sad example of what happens when knee-jerk EU legislation goes wrong.
The Evening Standard article ends on a pessimistic note, with the recognition that because this is EU law, it will be a complete nightmare to overturn.