Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

News

British Lords question legality of European Arrest Warrant

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

LONDON, February 1, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Today British media are reporting that the highly controversial European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is under intense scrutiny as it was revealed that British police are processing 20 times more international arrest warrants than they are requesting from other EU countries.

The Daily Mail reports that last year, British police were forced, at a cost to taxpayers of about £25 million, to arrest 4,100 people accused of committing sometimes trivial crimes, mostly at the request of Polish police. This is compared to the only 203 international arrest requests made by British police to other countries.

The EAW, which forces national police to arrest and deport their own citizens or those of other countries on demand, was adopted throughout the EU’s 27 member states. It has come under fire from both politicians and civil rights groups who warn that it is a major threat to the civil liberties upheld in centuries of British law.

Under the EAW, those arrested and extradited can face automatic custodial sentences in foreign prisons, even if they have been charged and tried in absentia without their knowledge or having presented a defence.

On Wednesday, January 26th, Lord Nigel Vinson, a Conservative party member of the House of Lords, asked the government “to what extent the EAW and European Investigation Order conform with the principle of habeas corpus.”

The Minister of State, Home Office, Baroness Neville-Jones, replied that the “European arrest warrant complies fully with the concept of habeas corpus.

“UK implementation of the European investigation order will also be fully compliant,” Neville Jones said.

On the issue of requests for arrest on “trivial offenses,” she added, “The Government share this concern and are talking to other EU countries, bilaterally and through the European Union, to stop this happening.”

Lord Vinson, however, was skeptical. “I thank the Minister for her considered reply,” he said, “but I am not as optimistic.”

“The fact remains that hundreds of UK citizens are being compelled to appear before any EU court without the merit of the often frivolous charges being first assessed.

“They can be locked up without pre-trial. Is she not concerned that this totally overrides the ancient liberties of the British citizen enshrined in Magna Carta and habeas corpus? Will she assure the House that this will be resolved?”

Habeas corpus is an ancient “prerogative writ,” that is, a legal procedure to which citizens have an undeniable right, which protects citizens from unlawful imprisonment. It has been embedded in British Common Law philosophy since Saxon times and is considered to be one of the cornerstones of civil liberties.

It requires that the state present a person being held in custody before the court and show cause why the liberty of that person is being restrained. Habeas Corpus is fundamental also to American and all other English-derived common law systems of jurisprudence.

Civil liberties campaigners have pointed out, however, that the EAW assumes that European justice systems are all equally fair. However, various countries have different procedures for rules of evidence, ensuring that witnesses are not coerced and how long a prisoner can be kept without charge. Additionally, some countries’ legal systems are plagued with corruption, as a number of notorious EAW cases have revealed. 

The warnings of critics have not fallen on deaf ears in Parliament; an investigation into UK extradition policy is being conducted by Sir Scott Baker for the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Several Lords rose in the House on Wednesday to raise concerns about the government’s application of the EAW framework.

Lord Vinson pointed out that three EU member states, Cyprus, Germany and Poland, have declared the EAW unconstitutional. The Czech Republic has also had a constitutional challenge.

“We should do the same,” Vinson said. “It really is time that we started to say no to damaging EU legislation.”

Alan Robertson Campbell, Baron of Alloway, a judge and Queen’s Council barrister, demanded that the government do something. “What exactly do the Government propose to do about this? The situation as it stands is obviously unjust and unsatisfactory.”

Lord David Stoddart of Swindon, a Labour Peer, said, “[O]ne of the prime duties of government is to protect the interests of the citizen, particularly when abroad.”

“[M]embers of the British public have been extradited to other countries without the production of any prima facie evidence at all. Moreover, they often go to countries that do not have the same respect for law and individual interests as we do in this country.

“The Government were warned about this when the Bill was discussed in Grand Committee. It is a serious matter and I hope that the Government will understand the level of concern about it throughout the country.”

Read a briefing here by Fair Trials International on the notorious case of Serena Wylde, a British business woman who faces a possible prison sentence in Portugal after she wrote a letter to that country’s legal profession’s regulatory agency.

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