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EDITIONS
Thursday, 27 June, 2002, 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK
Suspects face quicker extradition
General Pinochet faced extradition attempts in 1999
The Pinochet case went on for two years
Plans to speed up the extradition system so it is easier to make UK fugitives face trial abroad have been unveiled.

Civil liberties groups oppose the plans, which would introduce the controversial new European arrest warrant into British law.


Fugitives will no longer be able to escape or delay justice simply by crossing a national border

Bob Ainsworth
Home Office Minister
Under the draft Extradition Bill, the home secretary will no longer need to be involved in every single extradition application.

The plans come on the day Home Secretary David Blunkett's decision to extradite an Algerian accused of bombing the Paris Metro in 1995 was quashed in the High Court.

Mr Blunkett has been told to reconsider the case of 32-year-old Rachid Ramda.

Under the measures, some rights of appeal would be removed as the government tries to cut the average time taken to hand over suspects from 18 months to three months.

Ministers tried to reform the UK's extradition laws in last year's anti-terror legislation but were forced to delay the plans in the face of House of Lords opposition.

Terror crackdown

The government says there is no reason why alleged criminals should not be sent for trial in countries which have fair justice systems.

The EU arrest warrant, agreed by European leaders last December in the wake of the US terror attacks, would mean alleged criminals could be extradited to EU states with only limited UK legal hearings.

The plans would mean that for 32 "serious offences", including terrorism, suspects could be handed to other countries even if their crime was an offence in the UK.

Critics argue that charges like xenophobia and racism, both on the list, are not properly defined in British law.

John Wadham, Liberty
John Wadham: Plans risk injustice
Unveiling the bill, Home Office Minister Bob Ainsworth argued the plans struck the right balance between making the system faster and protecting human rights.

Mr Ainsworth said: "Fugitives will no longer be able to escape or delay justice simply by crossing a national border."

The minister stressed there were key safeguards which would be upheld through the courts.

He continued: "It's no secret that lengthy delays and unnecessary duplications plague our current system...

"It is high time that we simplified and modernised our outdated and archaic extradition process."

Court safeguards

Under the new procedures, alleged fugitives would have an initial hearing by a district judge in the UK and be able to appeal to the High Court.

"In limited circumstances", they would also be able to appeal to the House of Lords.

Different plans are set out for extraditions to EU countries, which account for most cases, and those to non-European nations, on which the rules are largely unchanged.

Cocaine seized in Southend
Drugs cases account for most extraditions

The government started consulting on changing the current process after the long wrangles attempts to extradite Chile's General Pinochet to Spain.

The Pinochet case went on for almost two years and ended in a decision by the home secretary to allow the general to return to Chile.

John Wadham, director of civil rights group Liberty, said the plans risked "opening the door wide to injustice"

"Our courts should establish there is good reason for the huge step of extradition," said Mr Wadham.

"Reducing appeals puts that process at risk: the EU arrest warrant practically destroys it."

Presuming guilt?

The Conservatives too are set to oppose the new measures.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said: "We are committed to ensuring that it will never be used to arrest a British citizen for a crime that is not a crime in the UK.

"We will also be arguing that it should never be used to arrest a British citizen to face trial in another country where there would be a presumption of guilt."

There was, however, a strong case to tighten up on attempts by fugitives to "evade justice" through long delays, said Mr Letwin.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said modernising the current system was long overdue.

"Too often extradition to and from this country takes too long - something which is incompatible with effective justice," said Mr Hughes.

See also:

27 Jun 02 | UK Politics
09 Jan 02 | UK Politics
13 Dec 01 | UK Politics
12 Dec 01 | Europe
12 Mar 01 | UK Politics
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