By Daniel Martin
Hundreds of Britons are expected to be extradited across Europe for trivial offences after Britain signed up to a new arrest warrant scheme.
The Home Office believes the number sent to face justice overseas is likely to treble when the draconian new agreement comes into force next April.
It means Britons in receipt of a European arrest warrant (EAW) could be sent for trial anywhere else in the EU for minor crimes such as drunkenness and driving offences.
The major extension of police powers comes as campaigners fight the extradition of computer hacker Gary McKinnon to the U.S.
European arrest warrants are already issued by EU nations, and British police forces usually respond to those relating to serious offences such as terrorism and organised crime.
Under the controversial new rules, a key part of the so-called Schengen Information II system, the police will be forced to respond to all EAWs.
Anyone who has an EAW issued against him or her will be automatically taken into custody. British courts must then allow an extradition, even if there are concerns about the standards of justice in the country they are being sent to. For example, trials in Poland, Greece and Bulgaria are often held without an English translation.
In 2007 – the latest figures available – a total of 504 people were sent abroad on EAWs.
The Home Office estimates that between 1,050 and 1,700 a year will be extradited when Schengen Information II comes into effect.
Many of the offences will be minor drugs crimes, drunkenness, driving offences and petty theft.
Tory justice spokesman Dominic Grieve said: ‘The European Arrest Warrant was introduced to fast track extradition of terrorist suspects, but has expanded well beyond that.
It allows British citizens to be whisked away to face trial for things that are not criminal in this country, on limited evidence, and in countries with lower standards of justice.’
Jago Russell, of Fair Trials International, said: ‘Unless Europe’s fast-track extradition system is improved, a threefold increase in the number of European arrest warrants could lead to three times as many cases of injustice.’