BRUSSELS (Reuters) - According to Spanish media, a judge issued a European arrest warrant for ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on Thursday after he defied a court order to appear at a hearing earlier that day.
The European arrest warrant system in place since 2004 makes it easier for EU countries to demand the extradition from other EU states of people wanted for crimes, and removes political decision-making from the process. EU countries issue thousands of the warrants each year.
Belgium follows a series of procedural steps for extradition under the European arrest warrant:
- After the suspect wanted by another country is detained by police, he is questioned by a judge within 24 hours, who determines whether the formalities for the extradition request have been fulfilled. The defendant can agree to the extradition immediately. If not, the judge can set bail and order him to be detained.
- A European arrest warrant can be blocked for several reasons in Belgium, but most are procedural in nature such as when the crime in question would be past the statute of limitations in Belgium or has already been ruled on in another country.
- There is also an exception on human rights grounds, when extradition would harm the fundamental rights of the defendant.
- The court has to decide within 15 days on whether there are sufficient reasons to stay the extradition. There are several possibilities to appeal, but in each case with a time limit of 15 days.
- Belgian authorities have to inform their European counterparts if a European arrest warrant cannot be executed after 90 days.
- The European arrest warrant procedure can be halted by applying for political asylum. However nearly all applications by EU citizens in Belgium have been rejected within five days, law professor Dirk Vanheule told Reuters earlier this week.
- Even if the extradition has been cleared by a judge, the order can still be halted over “serious humanitarian reasons” such as the defendant’s life or health being endangered by the move.
Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Peter Graff