George Hepburne Scott Successfully Defends British Soldier in Extradition Proceedings
On 6 April 2022, George’s client was discharged from extradition proceedings by a district judge at Westminster Magistrates’ Court following the successful deployment of an Article 8 objection to extradition on the grounds of private and family life.
The requested person (RP) was 30 years old. The extradition request made by the French Republic related to an incident in January 2014, at a ski-resort in France where the then 22 year old RP was stationed as a member of the British Paratroop Regiment attached to NATO.
A snowball fight had broken out outside a nightclub in the early hours and a local man became upset that his girlfriend had been hit by a snowball. He attacked the group of paratroopers including the RP. He was kicked and punched and suffered injuries. The RP and another solider were questioned the next day by French police and claimed self-defence. They were then released.
A short while later, the RP and his co-defendant both returned with their unit to the U.K. Unbeknownst to them, in February 2021, they were tried and convicted in their absence by the local French Court. They were both sentenced to 12 months immediate custody. The French authorities had apparently made attempts to contact the RP through the relevant British authorities to no avail. The RP was blissfully unaware of the ongoing investigation and proceedings. Following the conviction and sentence in absence, in October 2021, a French prosecutor issued an international extradition arrest warrant and the RP was arrested on this warrant at his home address in November 2021.
Interestingly, in December 2021 the RP’s co-defendant, appealed his sentence to the French Court of Appeal who had quashed the sentence of 12 months immediate custody and replaced it with a 3 month suspended sentence. The French CA had stated its reasons for doing this as being, inter alia: (i) the aggrieved started the violence, (ii) the context was an argument at 3am outside a nightclub when all had consumed alcohol and (iii) the paratroopers had used minimum force (ie they were trained to kill and had ‘only’ broken his cheekbone). This judgement was adduced by the defence in the extradition proceedings.
George invited the district judge to take this into account and to also take account of the age of the RP at the time, his lack of offending since, his ignorance of the proceedings (ie his lack of fugitive status), the passage of 8 years and the fact that his fiancé was now expecting their first child.
In the circumstances, the judge was persuaded that extradition would constitute a disproportionate interference in the Article 8 rights of the RP and his fiancé.
The RP was discharged.
George was instructed by Giovanna Fiorentino of Lansbury Worthington Solicitors