Case C-296/08 PPU, Santesteban Goicoechea

Again a case on the European Arrest Warrant Framework. And the second case in which the urgent in which the urgent preliminary rulings procedure as provided for in Art. 104b of the Rules of Procedure was used (for this procedure see further this post. And see this post for a discussion of the first case in which this procedure was used).

On June 2, 2008 the Spanish authorities requested the French authorities to extradite Mr Santesteban Goicoechea.The French Procureur Général asked the referring Court to issue a favourable opinion on the Spanish authorities’ request. The referring Court, asking several questions regarding the interpretation of Arts 31 and 32 of the Framework Decision, asked for the reference for a preliminary ruling to be dealt with under an urgent procedure pursuant to Art. 104b of the Rules of Procedure. The referring court stated as grounds for that request that Santesteban was being detained, after serving a sentence of imprisonment, on the sole basis of detention for the purpose of extradition ordered in the extradition proceedings in which the reference was made.
The Third Chamber of the Court, after hearing the Advocate General, decided on July 7, 2008 to grant the referring court’s request for the reference for a preliminary ruling to be dealt with under an urgent procedure. As a preliminary point, Santesteban asked the Court of Justice to hold that it would be contrary to the general principles of law applicable within the Union, in particular the principles of legal certainty, legality and non-retroactivity of the more severe criminal law, to apply the 1996 Convention to him in respect of acts which the Chambre de l’instruction of the Cour d’appel de Versailles, by judgment of June 19, 2001, declared to be statute-barred under French law, giving an opinion unfavourable to extradition.
The Court of Justice first of all reiterated that the system under Art. 234 EC applied to the Court’s jurisdiction to give preliminary rulings under Art. 35 EU, subject to the conditions laid down by that provision (Case C-105/03 Pupino [2005] and Case C-467/05 Dell’Orto [2007]).
The Court held that the fact that the order for reference did not mention Art. 35 EU but referred to Art. 234 EC could not of itself make the reference for a preliminary ruling inadmissible.

The Court furthermore rejected to answer a question raised by Mr Santesteban Goicoechea. Under Art. 35 EU, it was for the national court or tribunal, not the parties to the main proceedings, to bring a matter before the Court of Justice. The right to determine the questions to be put to the Court thus devolved on the national court alone and the parties might not change their tenor.

The Court added that to answer this question would be incompatible with the function given to the Court by Art. 35 EU and with its duty to ensure that the governments of the Member States and the parties concerned were given the opportunity to submit observations in accordance with Art. 23 of the Statute of the Court of Justice, bearing in mind that under that provision only the order of the referring court was notified to the interested parties. . (see also:
Case C-412/96 Kainuun Liikenne and Pohjolan Liikenne [1998]).
The Court held that Art. 31 of Framework Decision 2002/584 must be interpreted as referring only to the situation in which the European arrest warrant system was applicable, which was not the case where a request for extradition related to acts committed before a date specified by a Member State in a statement made pursuant to Art. 32 of that Framework Decision.
The Court furthermore held that Article 32 of Framework Decision 2002/584 must be interpreted as not precluding the application by an executing Member State of the Convention relating to extradition between the Member States of the European Union drew up by Council Act of September 27, 1996 and signed on that date by all the Member States, even where that convention became applicable in that Member State only after January 1, 2004.

Text of Judgment