Thursday 14 December 2017

Polish man claimed to 'have fear of flying' ahead of extradition flight

Dublin Airport
Dublin Airport

Ruaidhrí Giblin

The extradition of a man to his native Poland was delayed after he claimed to have a “fear of flying”.

Piotr Pawel Skiba is wanted in Poland to serve two prison sentences following his conviction for certain offences in Polish courts.

He was arrested in Ireland on foot of a European Arrest Warrant and his surrender to Polish authorities was ordered by the High Court on December 1.

His surrender was initially supposed to take place on or before Christmas Day and arrangements were made in the normal way for surrender to be effected on December 22.

As is usual in Ireland, the “envisaged mode of actual surrender” was that Mr Skiba would be placed on a commercial flight from Dublin Airport to Poland and that he would be accompanied on the flight by Polish police officers.

However, his surrender “did not take place as planned”.

Detective Sergeant Jim Kirwan, of the Garda Extradition Unit, told the High Court that, at the departure gate, Mr Skiba “refused to go and it became apparent that he wasn't going to go except by using more than minimal force.”

“The Captain of the plane decided at that point that he didn't want him (Mr Skiba) on his plane,” according to Det Sgt Kirwan.

The attempt to surrender was abandoned and Mr Skiba was returned to Cloverhill Prison.

In the High Court the following day, Mr Justice Richard Humphries fixed January 5 as the new surrender date because Mr Skiba would not be surrendered within the time provided due to “circumstances beyond the control of the State”.

The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court's order today.

Giving judgment in the three-judge court, Mr Justice John Edwards the High Court judge's assessment was conducted with due diligence and was consistent with the relevant evidence actually before him.

Mr Justice Edwards, who sat with President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice Seán Ryan and Mr Justice Alan Mahon, said he would dismiss the appeal.

As a result, the stay on the order for Skiba's surrender was accordingly lifted.

On December 12, Mr Skiba's solicitor telephoned the Irish authorities advising them that their client had a fear of flying.

Det Sgt Kirwan expressed himself to be skeptical of the claimed phobia. He observed that no indication concerning the alleged fear of flying had been made on December 1.

Moreover, no medical evidence had been proferred in support of the claimed fear.

Det Sgt Kirwan said: “I've dealt with hundreds of surrenders by air Judge, 99.9pc of them going according to plan and I have met many people … (who) said they have never been on a plane before and they would be quite anxious and it is normal enough but they didn't have any problem boarding the plane."

Mr Skiba's lawyers contended that the phonecall on December 12 sufficiently put the State on notice of a potential problem and to render it “foreseeable” that Skiba might refuse to board the plane.

As such, it could not then be contended that there were circumstances beyond the control of the relevant parties, Mr Skiba's lawyers contended. They appealed Mr Justice Humphries' order and “in effect” sought the discharge of their client.

Mr Justice Edwards said a matter such as fear of flying is very easily asserted, but before action on foot of it could reasonably be justified there would have to be some assessment of the level of theoretical risk involved.

He said very many people have a fear of flying and would prefer to travel by sea or overland despite the additional time involved in doing so.

In assessing the possible implications of an asserted fear of flying an assessor would look to see if the assertion was particularised and supported such as details by the person himself concerning how he had been affected, third party accounts and “optimally” relevant expert testimony.

A bald assertion could do no more than flag a remote and theoretical possibility rather than a foreseeable risk to be actively responded to.

Mr Justice Edwards said there were no details of the degree to which Mr Skiba suffered from the claimed fear or details concerning how he had been affected by it up to that point in time.

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