Bulgaria: extraditees ill-treated in repeated breaches of assurances by Bulgarian authorities

13.04.17 | |

 

The High Court has held that the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice repeatedly failed to abide by its clear assurances to the court not to detain extraditees from the UK in grossly overcrowded and materially poor prison conditions.

 

In Kirchanov & others v Bulgaria, Malcolm Hawkes, led by David Josse QC, acted for one of three appellants in a ground-breaking case involving the scrutiny of past assurances where prison conditions are concerned. It also saw the court apply the CJEU Aranyosi procedure to cases where there is a real risk of ill-treatment.

 

Central to the appeal was the 2016 case of Vasilev v Bulgaria, in which express assurances were given that neither Mr. Vasilev, nor any other extraditee from the UK would be held in grossly overcrowded and materially poor conditions. Rather, they would each be guaranteed a minimum personal space of 4m2. The court had held that it would be ‘inconceivable’ that Mr. Vasilev would be held in one of three prisons – Sofia, Burgas and Varna – with the worst conditions in the country.

 

Yet, Mr. Vasilev was then extradited and detained precisely at Sofia prison, before being moved to Belene prison where he was afforded, at all times, less than 3m2 of personal space. Two other extraditees suffered worse fates: Mr Asenov was extradited and held at Burgas prison, where he had less than 1.58m2 of personal space, before being moved to a slightly larger cell; while Mr. Ogoyski was extradited and held firstly at Sofia prison, then at Kremikovski prison with less than 1.5m2 per prisoner.

 

These breaches were only unearthed via the diligent field research of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and the legal teams involved in the UK.

 

In the instant appeal, the court accepted that detention in a cell with less than 3mper prisoner gives rise to a strong presumption of a real risk of ill-treatment. Despite repeated requests for further information, the Bulgarian authorities failed to explain why they had acted in repeated defiance of their clear assurances to the UK courts.

 

The court accepted in the instant case that the appellants had succeeded in rebutting the presumption of compliance with assurances. Following Aranyosi, in its judgment, the court set out detailed questions of the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice to be addressed within 42 days before this appeal can finally be determined.

 

Meanwhile, all contested Bulgarian extradition requests are to be stayed pending the outcome of this guideline case.

 

In Kirchanov & others v Bulgaria, Malcolm Hawkes is instructed by Robert Wong of JD Spicer Zeb Solicitors.

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