The Supreme Court has refused to order the extradition of a Polish man wanted in his home country to serve a prison sentence for "relatively minor" drugs offences due to the lengthy delay involved in seeking his surrender.
The court was also critical of the Polish authorities' handling, and confusion regarding an extradition request concerning offences that dated back to 1999.
The Polish authorities issued European Arrest Warrants in respect of 41-year-old Slawomir Wiktur Palonka, who has been living in Ireland with his family for the last 17 years.
He was wanted in Poland to serve a ten-month custodial sentence he received after being convicted of drugs offences, namely the importation of cannabis into Poland, in 1999 and for a similar offence committed in 2003.
The first EAW seeking the surrender of Mr Palonka, who had been living at an address in Drogheda Co Louth, was issued in 2012 after the Polish authorities established that he was living in Ireland.
That request was granted by the High Court but was overturned by the Court of Appeal.
A second EAW seeking his surrender was issued in 2019.
The High Court made an order for his extradition in 2019. On appeal, that decision was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2020 when it found that the lower court had insufficient information to make that decision.
The case was then reverted to the High Court for that court to conduct further fact-finding.
After the High Court made several finds of fact in the case, the matter returned before the Supreme Court for a final decision.
The five-judge court, comprised of Mr Justice John MacMenamin, Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne, Mr Justice Peter Charleton, Ms Justice Marie Baker and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan all agreed that an order for Mr Palonka's extradition should not be granted on grounds including that there had been exception delays in seeking and processing his surrender.
There had also been a failure by the Polish authorties to provide the Irish courts with certain information sought about the EAW request.
Giving the court's decision Mr Justice Peter Charleton said the request for extradition has followed a "twisting path by reason of complex procedural route" adding that the twists and turns happened both in Ireland and Poland.
The court, he said, had to consider issues including if the issuing of an EAW's seeking his surrender several years after the first one had been issued amounted to an abuse of process, and if the procedural delay had impacted on Mr Palonka's family rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
He noted that Mr Palonka was given a suspended sentence in respect of the 1999 conviction.
He also received a ten-month suspended sentence in relation to the 2003 conviction.
'Exceptional and oppressive'
In 2006 an appeal court in Poland lifted the suspended element of his custodial sentence
Mr Justice Charleton said that his was not a case of potential infringement of fundamental rights.
What had happened was an exceptional and oppressive disruption to Mr Palonka's family life. The delay in this case had created a new situation, the judge added.
The absence of crucial information sought by the court from the Polish authorities, he said, had brought into focus the 23-year delay involved from the time the first offence was committed to when extradition was being sought.
Since 2005 Mr Palonka had established roots and a family life in Ireland, the judge said.
The delay in processing the extradition request had underlined the exceptional nature of what had been sought in the context of cannabis offences, he said, adding that "surrender must be refused."
In his concurring judgement Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said that the delay of 23 years between conviction and surrender was inordinate, and the reason for such delay would need to be excused.
He said that "no adequate explanation had been offered in respect of the delay, and moreover the approach of the Polish authorities displays a lack of coherence consistency."
Unlike Ireland, Poland he said, lacks a central authority for EAW matters.
While this is a matter for each individual EU member the Polish authorities "cannot be heard to complain if a multiplicity of requests emanating from different courts and judicial authorities at different times are apt to cause procedural confusion and delay."
The judge said that it was perfectly evident that at each stage, the Polish judicial process and police investigations were beset by "some degree of delay and confusion", caused by "a series of understandable human errors."
The "relatively minor" offences he said were committed when Mr Palonka was just 18 years of age.
The confusion regarding the EAW resulted in the Polish authorities not availing of opportunities to apply for an EAW for some time.
The EAW, in respect of Mr Palonka, should have been issued much earlier than it had, he said.
What had happened here was a series of mishaps that resulted in the EAW being processed "in a disjointed and piecemeal fashion" resulting in long and inordinate delays that were "prejudicial to justice" and "unfair to Mr Palonka".