How three COPFS trainees made Scotland’s first venture into the European Judicial Network “Themis” competition, presenting on international judicial co-operation, and won a place in the final

First year Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service trainees, James Dunbar, Lauri Mitchell and Laura Wilcox, competed against 10 teams of first year judges and prosecutors from across the EU in the European Judicial Training Network "Themis" competition in Madrid between 15 and 18 April 2013. This was the first time Scotland has entered a team. The team won this round of the competition and will now go forward to the final to be held in Bucharest between 21 and 25 October inclusive.

The competition is open to first year judges and prosecutors of all European Union member states, where in most jurisdictions they form part of the judicial branch of the legal profession (see, for example the case of Assange v Swedish Prosecution Authority [2012] UKSC 22, where it was claimed a European arrest warrant issued by a prosecutor was invalid under the Extradition Act 2003).

Eleven teams participated in this round from Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, Denmark, Croatia, Turkey, Romania, Belgium and Spain.

The team had to choose a topic within the field of international judicial co-operation in criminal matters, and submitted a paper which considered the tensions between the operation of the European arrest warrant and the application of human rights. The paper focused on the principle of mutual recognition, which requires judges and prosecutors of requested member states to respect and give effect to the judicial decisions of judges and prosecutors in issuing member states.

The European arrest warrant is an EU-wide mechanism whereby if a judge or prosecutor issues a warrant to arrest a fugitive, the judge or prosecutor in the state the person is arrested must accept that decision. There are few bars to extradition, but all member states have required the primary decision maker to take account of human rights, despite all member states being signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights. This appears to create a tension in the trust implicit in the concept of mutual recognition.

The team drafted and took part in a mock extradition hearing, which was videoed and was played as part of their 30 minute oral presentation before three experts in international judicial co-operation. The scenario focused on two issues, namely article 8 and the impact extradition would have on the fugitive's family where the mother was at the end stage of multiple sclerosis and there were two children aged three and five years, as well as a bar to extradition under article 3 based on inhuman and degrading prison conditions. The team were then subject to 45 minutes of cross examination on their presentation. The judges were Professor Wolfgang Schomburg, a former judge of the ICTY/ICTR and Germany’s highest appeal court, Mr Jean-Michel Peltier, former liaison magistrate in Warsaw and Prague but now deputy prosecutor for Toulouse, and Dr Jorge Costa, a senior public prosecutor from Lisbon.

The competition provides “inverse learning”, where the other teams presented on trafficking in cultural objects, the proposed European Public Prosecutor's Office, trafficking in human beings, asset recovery within the EU, the Prum Convention, and joint investigation teams. Participation not only increases awareness of EU criminal law but is also an opportunity to meet colleagues from other EU states who are at the same point in their careers.

While in Madrid, the team visited the Office of the Prosecutor General of Madrid and received a talk on the work of the prosecutor in Spain. This was very interesting because as well as being independent, the prosecutor has the widest possible role as defender of the public interest, including both criminal and limited civil jurisdiction.

The team received tremendous support from COPFS colleagues and wish to thank them for that. David J Dickson, acting head of the International Co-operation Unit, had the pleasure of coaching the team and is grateful to them for their commitment and hard work.

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