Blunkett Urged to Rethink Euro Arrest Warrants

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Byline: MATTHEW HICKLEY

EUROPEAN arrest warrants which come into force at midnight should be scrapped, civil rights groups said yesterday.

The controversial warrants will make it easier to extradite Britons to other EU countries.

But there are concerns that once abroad, they will not receive a fair trial.

Home Secretary David Blunkett has dismissed concerns, insisting that the European Convention on Human Rights means that anyone is guaranteed a fair trial within the EU.

Campaigners say the problems faced by British planespotters convicted of spying during a holiday to Greece two years ago highlight the poor standards of justice in some member states.

Stephen Jakobi, director of the legal rights group Fair Trials Abroad, said: 'The idea that only guilty people get arrested is simply wrong, and the main countries we are concerned about are Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal and Greece. A number of countries pay lip service to the European Convention on Human Rights.

'They have signed up to standards they don't obey - for example in providing legal help and translators for a trial. That's why you see rubbish cases like the planespotters in Greece.

'We are still years away from the introduction of Europe-wide bail arrangements, and without that it will be impossible to use these new warrants without discrimination. If you are foreign you will not get bail, and you will be locked up possibly for long periods.

'Ministers here were so keen to arrest British villains who have escaped abroad that they didn't think hard enough about the consequences for our own citizens.' A spokesman for the civil rights group Liberty last night urged the Government to put the whole system on hold until standards of justice in other EU states are significantly improved.

'Despite the Government's assurances, we do know from a mass of evidence that whatever treaties countries sign up to, it is often the case that the standard of justice is very low,' he said.

The new warrants cover a list of 32 offences where the principle of 'dual criminality' is suspended, so that a suspect can be extradited even if his or her home country does not recognise the crime in question. …