By Steve Doughty
Britons tried abroad in their absence will be deported from the UK to serve their sentence under planned European laws.
Refinements to the controversial European Arrest Warrant system mean a British citizen can be arrested here and sent to prison elsewhere – even if he did not know he had been charged.
The rules will apply to crimes ranging from murder and rape to others such as ‘xenophobia’ [fear of something foreign or strange] which is unrecognised in British law.
Justice Secretary Jack Straw has given British backing to the extradition laws on the grounds that they will improve ‘mutual trust’ among the 27 EU countries.
They were given a vote of confidence at the European Parliament yesterday in advance of final approval by national governments later this year.
[…]they would undermine the right of the accused to defend himself in a trial, and lawyers warned of the risk of serious miscarriages of justice.
Dominic Grieve, Conservative home affairs spokesman, said the plan was alarming. ‘Allowing British nationals to be extradited to face prison in European jails, based on trials in absentia, is simply not compatible with the principles of British justice.’
The European Arrest Warrant system came into operation four years ago, with British backing, despite fears from opposition MPs and lawyers over its implications. It allows EU countries to demand the extradition of suspects from other EU states without any formal extradition proceedings or court hearings.
At the moment, states including Britain have the right to refuse to hand over a suspect, if he has been convicted in his absence.
But the latest ‘trial in absentia’ initiative will insist he is handed over. The state making the request must only demonstrate that the suspect was informed of the trial – a legal condition that does not mean he is told in person.
The Justice Ministry said: ‘The initiative will ensure that there is clarity as to when the courts of one member state recognise a decision taken by another member state in a person’s absence.’
But Pieter Cleppe, a lawyer at the Open Europe think tank, said: ‘This proposal could open the door to serious miscarriages of justice and ministers should not be supporting it.’
The European Arrest Warrant was agreed by EU leaders in 2001[…]
The UK Government believed it would speed justice and improve relations between EU countries.
The latest rule will close a loophole in the system to countries, including Britain, which are seen as slow to hand over suspects.
Until the Euro-warrants came into force in 2004, anyone in Britain had the right to a court hearing before being extradited abroad.
This was in accord with the idea of habeas corpus, which says no one should be imprisoned unless good reason is provided in court.
The Euro-warrant system is based on the Napoleonic justice system used in much of Europe, in which the court process is used in a different way.
The warrants can apply to 32 offences defined as crimes under European law.
British supporters of the warrants say they are useful.
But some extraditions are contentious. For example, Poland tried to extradite a woman of 88 from Britain for crimes allegedly committed in the 1950s.