Flat Earth: Euro the jury

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The Independent Online
ONCE it was straight bananas and bans on British bangers, now it is income tax and fraud trials. Euro-scares may have become less sexy, but the Daily Telegraph did its best with its main front-page story on Monday, which breathlessly warned of plans for "a common judicial area in Europe", based on the Continental inquisitorial model rather than good honest trial by jury.

The paper admitted that this was intended initially for fraud cases against EU institutions, but insisted that habeas corpus - nay, Magna Carta itself - was under threat. Euro-sceptics, it said darkly, feared this was another of those EU initiatives which were dismissed as just an idea at the early stages, "only to be foisted upon an unsuspecting public at a later date".

A new figure called the "judge of freedoms" would have powers to detain suspects for up to nine months and transfer them to the country where the crime took place, without extradition proceedings. The reader was referred further to a piece entitled "Rewriting Magna Carta" as well as a leading article and a tirade by the Telegraph's blond Euro-basher, Boris Johnson.

A couple of days later the newspaper published a letter from a Professor JR Spencer of Selwyn College, Cambridge, pointing out that the "judge of freedoms" was a British, not a European, legal concept. He would have to ask a court before mounting an investigation or holding anyone in custody. Prof Spencer, one of the experts who drew up the proposals, also pointed out that the idea of abolishing juries in fraud trials was also originally British.

Manfully, the paper printed his final comment, which was that the authors of the plan had done their best to publicise it, without success. "Indeed," he concluded, "I once even offered to write an article on it for the Daily Telegraph - but no one was interested." Shouldn't have thought so, if he was trying to be objective.