By Anthea Galea
On 19 March 2019, in Jawo vs. Germany, the Court of (ECJ) the question of whether the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (the Charter) prohibits the transfer of an asylum applicant to the Member State responsible for processing the asylum application if there is a serious risk that the applicant will be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment. The ECJ established that when deficiencies in the asylum system of a Member State put a person who has been granted international protection in a situation of extreme material poverty, in which his or her most basic needs are not met, the threshold of a high level of severity is reached. As a result, the asylum seeker may not be transferred. In contrast to previous judgments, namely N.S. and Others and C.K. and Others, the ECJ considered the applicant’s circumstances after having been transferred to the responsible Member State and granted international protection. In addition, this judgment provides another instance in which the principle of mutual trust – which is the cornerstone of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) – can be rebutted, leading to an asylum applicant not being transferred.
By Sofia Mirandola
The case and questions referred
In these times when “strong headwinds” are blowing against the European culture of fundamental rights and the rule of law (see P. Pinto de Albuquerque), the principles of mutual recognition and mutual trust on which judicial cooperation in the EU is based have come under pressure. The CJEU and the ECtHR are increasingly called upon to address the phenomenon of “rule of law backsliding” and to strongly defend these common values.
The recent preliminary reference submitted by the High Court of Ireland in case C-216/18 L.M. fits into such trend. It concerns the possibility to refuse the execution of three European Arrest Warrants issued by Polish courts against an individual, L.M., on account of the potential violation of the right to a fair trial ensuing from the latest controversial reforms of the judiciary in Poland. According to the Commission’s reasoned proposal to activate for the first time in history the procedure of Art. 7 TEU, which recently found the endorsement of the European Parliament calling on the Council to take action swiftly, the said reforms resulted in a breach of the rule of law due to, essentially, a lack of sufficient guarantees of external independence of the judiciary at all levels. Even though the application of the Framework Decision on the EAW can be suspended only after a Council’s decision under Art. 7 (1) TEU has been adopted (Recital 10 of the Framework Decision on the EAW), it is nonetheless inevitable that such circumstances may – from the viewpoint of the person subject to an EAW issued by Poland – entail a serious risk of breach of the right to a fair trial. The CJEU now has thus the opportunity to clarify whether an alleged lack of judicial independence amounts to a breach of the right to a fair trial that calls for the refusal to execute an EAW, as an exception to the principle of mutual trust.