Extradition to Belgium from the UK stayed: fears of ill-treatment in prison


The High Court has stayed all contested extradition from the UK to Belgium pending the determination of a joint appeal, alleging ill-treatment in Belgian prisons.


The appellants are represented by Malcolm Hawkes and Mary Westcott, who persuaded the court that it is reasonably arguable that extradition to Belgium would entail a real risk of ill-treatment due to gross overcrowding, poor material conditions and a recurring risk of strike action by prison staff.


In 2016, the Belgian prison estate was thrown into turmoil during a succession of walk-outs by prison guards.  Prisons conditions were described as ‘desperate’ and even ‘medieval’ by observers.


These problems in Belgium are long-standing. The European Court of Human Rights found a breach of Article 3 due to structural overcrowding in its 2014 judgment, Vasilescu v Belgium. In its 2016 report, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture found severe overcrowding in its inspection of Antwerp, Forest, Merksplas and Tournai prisons, with some prisoners sleeping on the floor. Industrial action, ongoing since 2003, has had a serious impact on conditions overall, leading on one occasion to just 10 guards in charge of over 1,000 prisoners. The failure to put in place sufficient measures to deal with industrial action lies at the heart of the Article 3 complaint.


The full appeal is to be heard in May 2017. 


In Purcell and Pengel v Belgium, Malcolm Hawkes is instructed by Kate Chanter of Hodge Jones and Allen Solicitors; and Mary Westcott is instructed by Wesam Colley of Lawrence and Co. Solicitors.

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