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Wednesday, 9 January, 2002, 17:11 GMT
EU arrest warrant pledge
Costa del Sol
Costa del Sol is losing its criminal image
Britons who are sentenced in their absence abroad will be guaranteed a retrial before they are extradited to the European Union country where the alleged crime was committed, a junior home office minister has said.

Bob Ainsworth, discussing proposals for a European Arrest Warrant, said the government was certain it would be able to enshrine the assurance in British law.

Where a sentence has been given in absentia, the person will have a guaranteed retrial if they are sent back to an issuing state

Bob Ainsworth
Junior home office minister

The minister, giving evidence at the Commons European Scrutiny select committee, was answering concerns from MPs about how far the planned warrant would extend.

"Our intention is to make it very clear, enshrined in the British legislation, that where a person has been sentenced in absentia, the person will have a guaranteed retrial if they are sent back to an issuing state and I see no way that that is going to be overturned," said Mr Ainsworth.

Bob Ainsworth
The European Arrest Warrant will only be issued between judicial authorities

"If we weren't comfortable with our ability to be able to enshrine those words in our own legislation, we would be... making a statement.

"So with regard to our own citizens we are able to give that reassurance.

"We don't think there is anything to be gained by attempting to reopen the issue."

The minister assured members that a warrant would only be issued by one judicial authority to a judicial authority in a member state and not between police authorities.

Extradition Bill

In the case of England and Wales, the judicial authority is Bow Street Magistrates' Court.

The European Arrest Warrant is expected to form part of an Extradition Bill, which will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Mr Ainsworth said the warrant would speed up the extradition process.

"It's going to be far more difficult for people to escape justice by moving across borders," he said.

Matters of conscience

But Tory Eurosceptic Bill Cash questioned how the proposals would cater for matters such as euthanasia, which is illegal in Britain, but not in the Netherlands.

Tory Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) asked how the warrant would affect people like the 12 British planespotters, held in Greece on suspicion of spying.

Mr Ainsworth said the government was looking at issues of conscience and pledged to address them.

Britain and Spain have already signed a treaty to end the lengthy extradition process that helped make the southern Spanish coast a hideaway for British criminals.

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