Judges in the Netherlands have suspended the extradition of a suspected drug smuggler to the UK because they fear he will be held in “inhuman or degrading” conditions in a British prison.

The judges fear the unnamed fugitive may be held at HMP Liverpool and said there would be “a real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment” there.

The British justice ministry “strongly refuted” the suggestion. The fugitive, wanted over allegations of narcotics trafficking on Merseyside, has been on the run for two years. He is understood to have been living in Spain.

A European arrest warrant was issued at Liverpool magistrates’ court in July 2017 and an extradition hearing was held at a court in Amsterdam on Wednesday. Documents obtained by the Liverpool Echo showed that the Dutch judges felt it likely that the fugitive would be held at HMP Liverpool and referred to a report published last July on the state of prisons in the UK.

The review found “conditions which have no place in an advanced nation in the 21st century” and documented “some of the most disturbing prison conditions we have ever seen”. Inmates at Liverpool, known as Walton prison, lived in “squalid” conditions in a jail plagued by rats and flooded with drugs. Peter Clarke, chief inspector of prisons, said: “The inspection team was highly experienced and could not recall having seen worse living conditions.”

The Dutch authorities have since refused to extradite people if there is a risk of them being held at the prison, or at HMP Bedford or HMP Birmingham,

The director-general of prisons wrote to the Dutch judges, saying: “We do not accept those conditions anywhere in our prisons amount to inhuman or degrading treatment contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Article 3 says that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

The letter added that steps had been taken to address overcrowding, appoint new governors and increase staffing with £100 million in new funding.

The fugitive’s lawyer said: “The letter . . . gives no assurance that the situation is now different. Nor is there a guarantee that the person claimed will not be placed in HMP Bedford, HMP Birmingham or HMP Liverpool.”

The Dutch judges concluded that the British authorities’ information was “too general and insufficient” to show that conditions had improved, saying: “There is a real risk that . . . the person claimed will be subjected to inhumane or degrading treatment.”

A spokeswoman for the justice ministry said: “We strongly refute the idea that any of our prisons provide inhuman or degrading conditions and since the court postponed their decisions we have provided reassurances . . . Neither our domestic courts nor the European Court of Human Rights has ever ruled that they are in breach of Article 3.”

Ben Keith, a barrister specialising in extradition law in London, said: “The UK has for years been demanding assurances from several EU countries that prisoners extradited to those countries will be held in prisons that comply with human rights standards.

“The Dutch have turned the tables and the Ministry of Justice will be feeling uncomfortable. There was always a chance this was going to happen.”

This article was originally published by the Times on 11 May 2019 and can be viewed in full here.

Ben Keith is a barrister specialising in Extradition, Immigration, Serious Fraud, Human Rights and Public law. He has extensive experience of appellate proceedings before the Administrative and Divisional Courts, as well as applications and appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and United Nations. He has significant expertise in the challenge of INTERPOL Red Notices. He is ranked in Chambers and Partners and Legal 500 in the top tiers.