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Monday, 12 March, 2001, 18:58 GMT
Straw promises faster extradition
General Pinochet arrives home from Britain
Bid to extradite General Pinochet caused controversy
Home Secretary Jack Straw has launched plans to overhaul Britain's 'outdated' extradition laws.

Changes proposed on Monday could mean Britons are handed over for trial in other European countries within weeks rather than months.

Mr Straw has started a consultation process to simplify the existing system, which has four stages offering several chances for lodging an appeal.

He said the complications in current law were clearly seen during the attempted extradition of former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet in 1999.

"We are still using 19th century mechanisms to fight 21st century crime."

Jack Straw
Home Secretary

"Even in a very high profile case like that, it can take many months and sometimes - with multiple opportunities for appeal and unclear responsibilities - the delays can run into years," he said.

"There is no doubt that our system is significantly more complex, and unnecessarily so, than most of our EU partners.

"I don't want to speculate what might have been in the Pinochet case specifically but the criteria would have been very much reduced."

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

No-one should be able to escape justice simply by crossing a border, insisted the home secretary.

'Outdated' laws

Some current extradition laws dated back centuries to when European nations were periodically at war with each other, explained Mr Straw.

"We are still using 19th century mechanisms to fight 21st century crime."

The proposed changes are based on a system which has operated between Britain and the Republic of Ireland since 1965.

Cases between EU countries could need just one court appearance to extradite someone under the new plans.

Most of the home secretary's role in deciding extradition cases would also be removed and politicians would no longer be accountable to parliament on what is a sensitive legal area.

Global crime problem

Mr Straw argued change was needed as better global communications not only made it easier for criminals to offend across the world, they also made evading the law simpler.

"Serious crime is becoming increasingly complex and international in character."

Home Secretary Jack Straw
Jack Straw wants to speed up extradition process

The attempted extradition to Spain of the former dictator General Pinochet highlighted the complexity of the present system.

The consultation document is likely to be criticised by many civil liberties groups.

Critics fear that any changes to the present extradition law could erode the rights of defendants.

Disquiet is also likely to come from Eurosceptics as the plans would make it much easier for foreign states to exercise jurisdiction over Britons accused of crimes overseas.

Yet some other EU countries, including France and Germany, insist on trying their citizens in courts at home instead of extraditing them.

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See also:

21 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Pinochet legal bill tops 2m
08 Mar 01 | Americas
The Pinochet case: Timeline
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