The following few paragraphs will very shortly reflect on the two most important holdings of the Supreme Court in this judgment.
1) Non-refoulement as a limitation of extradition is not part of the judicial examination of legal requirements for extradition. The Minister of Justice, as the one giving a final decision on extradition, should be the one to decide about the right to non-refoulement.
This reasoning is a result of the judicial interpretations of the applicable legislation, and is not specifically derived from its exact wording. Generally, provisions of the Croatian International Cooperation in Legal Matters Act (ICLMA) proscribe a two-step extradition procedure. First, a court of law decides on merits by examining the ‘legal requirements’ for extradition of a third country national – to this extent, ICLMA lists criminality of the conduct for which the extradition is sought, no expiry of the temporal limitation for criminal prosecution or violation of the ne bis in idem principle, determining the identity of the person, and finally, reasonable doubt that the person committed a crime for which it is accused. However, the wording of ICLMA does not specify that solely those conditions should be taken into account, but merely states that ‘legal requirements are to be assessed by a court’ – which creates doubt that courts may also be required to assess all other legal requirements for extradition in the Croatian legal system, such as the non-refoulement or asylum application obstacles which are not explicitly listed in ICLMA. After a court’s decision on allowing extradition due to the existence of legal requirements, the file then goes to the Minister of Justice who brings the final decision by using his discretion. In other words, it is within his discretion not to extradite a person despite the decision of a court that legal requirements for extradition have been fulfilled. Pursuant to the reasoning of the Supreme Court in the present case, this discretion would also include examination of the right to non-refoulement.
Although setting up the extradition procedure should be considered as falling within the procedural autonomy of a state, in the present circumstances one would surely welcome a more comprehensive analysis on whether Minister’s discretionary assessments of non-refoulement comply with the requirements of an effective legal remedy. Especially since, pursuant to ICLMA’s provisions, Minister’s decision on extradition ICLMA is final and is not subject to an appeal.
2) The applicant’s asylum application is not a ground for denying the extradition request, as it is nowhere mentioned in ICLMA, nor required by the European Convention on Extradition.
Similarly to the right to non-refoulement, the Supreme Court considered that relevance of asylum applications are not to be considered by courts as legal requirements for denying extradition. In making such an assessment, the Supreme Court undoubtedly relied on its previous case-law stating that relevance of asylum (and asylum applications) is to be assessed in the extradition procedure by a Minister of Justice using his discretion – the same as the assessments of non-refoulement (for example in judgment of 18 January 2012, I Kz 1030/11-4).
Although Article 9 of the Procedures Directive 2013/32/EU allows Member States discretion to extradite asylum applicants (but this Directive was not even mentioned in the judgment), the Supreme Court failed to recognize that Croatia has decided to use this discretion in a way not to allow extradition of asylum applicants until the decision on asylum application comes into force if the extradition request comes from their country of origin.
The present Supreme Court’s decision of 17 February 2014 came out more than two and a half months after the new Asylum Act came into force on 30 November 2013, and provided for retroactive application of the rule in question. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court completely disregarded this provision and relied solely on the ICLA and the European Convention on Extradition that indeed do not make such requirements. The Supreme Court thus also did not reflect on the question whether the new obligation of disallowing extradition of asylum applicants to their countries of origin could fall within the scope of ‘legal requirements’ to extradition as provided in ICLMA. It also remained silent on how to reconcile the Minister’s discretion on extradition with the newly established and self-imposed obligation not to extradite asylum applicants to their countries of origin.