High Court clarifies meaning of “fugitive” and quashes extradition order

On 29 July 2019, Lady Justice Rafferty and Mr Justice Garnham quashed the decision of District Judge Zani ordering Veronica De Zorzi’s extradition to France. The High Court found that the District Judge was wrong to conclude that Ms De Zorzi was a fugitive from justice and that he ought to have found that extradition was oppressive (contrary to section 14 of the Extradition Act 2003), as well as a disproportionate interference with Ms De Zorzi’s rights to a private and family life (contrary to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights).  The decision can be accessed here.

In 2001 Ms de Zorzi was arrested at Paris Gare du Nord after arriving by train from her home city, Amsterdam. She was found to have smuggled 1,400 LSD tabs. She was subject to “judicial supervision” (bail), was permitted to return to Amsterdam (her home town) and was required to respond to court summonses. She returned to the French court at least once. She was convicted and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in June 2001. Her conviction was upheld in 2002. She was not present at conviction or the appeal hearings.

In 2001, the French authorities issued an extradition request under the European Convention on Extradition 1957 seeking her extradition to serve the three year sentence. The request was finally refused by the Dutch Minister of Justice in 2007. The French authorities also issued an EAW in 2005 (although this request was never executed in the Netherlands). While on a visit to the UK in 2018, Ms De Zorzi was arrested under the 2005 EAW.

The issue was whether, by remaining in the Netherlands, the Appellant’s conduct was such that she had “placed herself beyond the French legal system” and was thereby a fugitive.  As the High Court said: “Is a requested person a “fugitive” if she fails to return to the jurisdiction of the requesting state from the country of which she is a resident in breach of the obligation placed on her by the courts of the requesting state at a time when she was in her home country?”

In allowing the appeal, the High Court confirmed the principle that being a fugitive requires the court to assess the requested person’s state of mind: “the test for fugitive status is subjective – the requested person must be shown deliberately and knowingly to have placed himself beyond the reach of the relevant legal process”.

The High Court rejected each reason given by the District Judge for finding Ms De Zorzi to be a fugitive. In particular, the Court found that (i) the “mere receipt of a document from a foreign court by a person in the country of their residence informing them of their conviction in that foreign state and requiring their return does not make them a fugitive”, (ii) appealing a sentence while remaining in your home country does not make someone a fugitive (indeed, it demonstrates their engagement with the legal process), (iii) “declining to surrender herself to the requesting state does not constitute knowingly placing herself beyond the reach of a legal process. It amounts instead to declining to place herself within the reach of that process”, and (iv) knowledge that a state is seeking your extradition does not render you a fugitive.

Ms De Zorzi was represented by Graeme Hall who was in turn instructed by Neil Allan, Tuckers Solicitors.