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Irish court to hear EU arrest warrants from UK now void

By Sean O'Driscoll

European arrest warrants issued by the UK are no longer valid because of Brexit, a test case in the Republic is due to hear this morning.

Michael Forde SC, a barrister for an Irish businessman wanted for fraud in the UK, will argue that the triggering of Brexit this month means that the 2002 EU agreement that underpins the European arrest warrant system can no longer be used by the UK.

The case has wider implications for dozens of people awaiting surrender to Northern Ireland from the Republic and other EU countries.

Mr Forde's client, Thomas Joseph O'Connor, a Roscommon builder who worked in the UK, was sentenced to four and a half years by a London judge, but skipped bail and fled to Ireland.

The UK authorities issued a European arrest warrant and he was arrested by gardai.

In court documents obtained by the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Forde will argue that human rights guarantees enshrined in the 2002 EU Council "framework decision" on European arrest warrants protect prisoners for the entire length of their sentence.

The UK will have completely withdrawn from the EU in two years, which would invalidate Mr O'Connor's rights during his four and a half-year sentence, Mr Forde said.

His argument, if successful, would also cover suspects who have not been convicted in the UK, but who would allegedly suffer the same diminishment of their Framework Decision rights if surrendered to the UK.

The 2002 EU Council agreement covers all the terms of the European arrest warrant, including the right to appeal and other measures after the prisoner is surrendered to another EU country.

Those measures would be null and void in just two years, Mr Forde will argue before the Irish Court of Appeal this morning.

A legal source said that the O'Connor case is the first to use the triggering of Brexit to contest a surrender to the UK and that there was "many more to come".

In court documents presented this morning, Mr Forde will argue that O'Connor (49), from Cloughbeirne, The Walk, Roscommon, cannot be blamed for Britain's lack of preparation when it triggered its withdrawal from the European Union.

"Prior to that referendum taking place, no significant preparations were made by the UK Government to address the obvious difficulties," the statement of claim says.

"The Plaintiff cannot be faulted for the failure of the UK authorities in this regard, insofar as these proceedings are concerned."

O'Connor is wanted in the UK over his role in a £5m tax fraud after losing an Irish Supreme Court appeal before the Brexit referendum.

In 2006, he was convicted in London of fraud after a five-week trial. He fled to Ireland and forfeited £30,000 in bail money.

He was sentenced in 2007 at Blackfriars Crown Court, London, in his absence and the UK authorities have been seeking his return ever since.

His case is due before the Court of Appeal in Dublin after another High Court judge refused a full hearing on the case.

Mr Forde reappeared before another High Court judge this week to seek legal aid for his client.

Judge Donnelly questioned why Mr O'Connor needed free legal aid when he was able to raise €120,000 in bail money but accepted that he had a right to the aid.

Mr Forde said that the High Court has previously accepted that his client is poverty-stricken and cannot afford a lawyer.

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