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Monday, 9 December, 2002, 22:08 GMT
Euro arrest warrant under fire
General Pinochet faced extradition attempts in 1999
The Pinochet case prompted extradition worries
The European arrest warrant could see Britons sent abroad to face trial for things which are not offences in the UK, Home Office Minister John Denham has said.

He told MPs it was "indefensible" to suggest they should not be sent back for trial.


British people who go abroad should be expected to obey the law of the country they are visiting

John Denham
Under current rules, people can only be extradited if the crime they are wanted for is illegal in the UK as well.

But shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin, who presented a petition to Downing Street ahead of debate on the Extradition Bill, said it was "obnoxious" that people could be extradited if the crimes were not defined in British law.

The government hopes the bill, which paves the way for the introduction of the European arrest warrant in 2004, will speed up the time taken to return someone for trial abroad from 18 months to only three.

Unveiling the new measures, Mr Denham said: "British people who go abroad should be expected to obey the law of the country they are visiting in the same way that we expect visitors to this country to obey our laws.

"If a German citizen came and acted illegally here, we would expect them to be arrested and put on trial irrespective of whether their conduct was contrary to German law.

"In the same way a Briton who visits Germany should not expect to escape justice for breaking German law simply because Britain does not have an exact equivalent crime.

Oliver Letwin
Oliver Letwin says the plans are "obnoxious"
"If that person flees before arrest and manages to cross a border, those speaking from the Opposition benches seem to believe that that individual should be safe from prosecution.

"I have to say that in a world where travel is so simple and widely available that is an indefensible position."

Ministers argue having a common European arrest warrant will prevent suspects from escaping justice just by crossing national borders.

The bill means the home secretary will no longer be involved in every single extradition application.

Xenophobia covered

The common European arrest warrant was agreed last December by European leaders in the wake of the US terror attacks.

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

There would be only limited extradition hearings in UK courts.

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.

That list includes charges like xenophobia and racism.

'Gross infringement'

The Tories would prevent parts of the bill from coming into effect, Mr Letwin said.

Earlier, Mr Letwin, who was joined outside Number 10 by John Wadham, chairman of civil rights group Liberty, said: "The European arrest warrant will allow British citizens to be extradited for crimes - some of them vague and undefined - that are not crimes in the UK.

"This is a gross infringement of our civil liberties and would lead to our citizens facing trial in other countries, some of whose legal systems operate on the presumption of guilt."

In the Commons, John Burnett, for the Liberal Democrats, said the Home Office was "jettisoning some established protections for individuals and watering down wider safeguards."

The government started consulting on changing the current process after the long wrangles over 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.

See also:

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