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Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 13:33 GMT
Battle looms over EU arrest warrant
Italian policeman in Genoa
Police will simply have to identify a foreign suspect
The Conservatives have warned the government it will face a parliamentary battle if it attempts to force the proposed pan-European arrest warrant into UK law without major amendments.

The pact obliges any EU country to hand over suspects of serious crimes to any other member state without lengthy and complex extradition procedures.

There is no place for such legislation in this country

Oliver Letwin
Shadow home secretary
Prime Minister Tony Blair has brushed aside criticisms of the proposals, due to be rubber-stamped alongside other anti-terrorism measures at this weekend's Laeken summit, suggesting they are only fuelled by Euroscepticism.

But opponents stress concerns on the grounds of civil liberties, saying the arrest warrant could mean Britons facing a foreign court charged with crimes not recognised in the UK, such as xenophobia and corruption.

It is also said that the warrant, due to come into force in 2004, will sweep away ancient rights as suspects would have no right to challenge extradition in their home country's courts.

The plans would involve the 'fast tracking' of suspects accused from a list of 32 crimes including terrorism, fraud, paedophilia and racism.

'Rushed' laws

It is thought the EU arrest warrant would be brought into UK law within Home Secretary David Blunkett's bill reforming extradition and asylum procedures, expected early next year.

The Tories say it is another example of laws unrelated to the fight against terrorism being rushed onto the statute book on the back of other, more urgent requirements following 11 September.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said: "If the government tries to implement this form of wide-ranging European arrest warrant in Britain through its extradition law in the New Year then there are going to be some very hard fought parliamentary battles.

It is manifestly in this country's interest to have... a fast-track procedure for extraditing people to this country from European countries

Tony Blair
"There is no place for such legislation in this country."

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has told the prime minister in a letter that the plan would seriously weaken the power of Parliament and the courts to protect the rights of British citizens.

He demanded that at the Laeken summit the government "oppose the introduction of EU arrest warrants for anything but terrorist offences".

When the issue was raised at prime minister's questions on Wednesday, Tony Blair said there would be "many opportunities" to debate the proposals.

But he went on: "It is manifestly in this country's interest to have a procedure that is a fast-track procedure for extraditing people to this country from European countries... what this will do is simplify the procedure enormously."

The prime minister added: "There is one problem with this proposal so far as a large part of the Conservative Party is concerned. It has got the word Europe in it."

Abuse warning

However, concern has also been expressed by the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH).

Vice-president Michel Tubiana said the scheme could create legislative imbalances within the EU, and he echoed Tory objections.

"One cannot rule out the possibility that the European arrest warrant could be widened to other crimes or abused.

"There is absolutely no guarantee preventing this."

Other anti-terrorism measures due to be approved at the weekend's summit in Belgium include:

  • The formation of anti-terrorist task force within Europol
  • Agreed minimum penalties for certain crimes
  • Co-operation with the US in the investigation and extradition of terror suspects
  • Measures to freeze terrorists' assets and cut off their funding
  • Tough laws against money laundering - obliging any business with suspect clients to inform the police
  • A network of experts to provide help in case of nuclear, biological or chemical emergency
  • A surveillance and control network for transmissible disease
  • Improved airport and airline security
  • Political dialogue with those countries and regions of the world where terrorism comes into being

The two-day summit will also review the New Year launch of notes and coins in the eurozone and steps for the next phase of European integration.

See also:

12 Dec 01 | Europe
Laeken's anti-terror agenda
11 Dec 01 | Europe
Italy U-turn on arrest warrant
16 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Agreement on EU-wide arrest warrants
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