Proposal for Europe-wide arrest warrant

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RADICAL PROPOSALS to introduce a European-wide arrest warrant and abolish extradition proceedings in some criminal cases are being prepared by justice ministers of the European Union.

The Euro-arrest warrant will allow police forces to use powers, granted to them by their own judges, to arrest suspects in other member states without recourse to the local court.

In cases where an EU citizen has been sentenced in another EU country, extradition proceedings will no longer be necessary. Where a person has been convicted and is awaiting sentence there would be an extradition fast-track procedure.

The measures are part of a package of reforms devised by the ministries of justice of all 15 EU countries, aimed at harmonising Europe's criminal and civil justice systems. They will be considered at a special meeting of the heads of state of the Council of Europe in October at Tampere, Finland.

It is understood that the Home Office has been the driving force behind a number of these proposals including the mutual recognition of criminal convictions secured in EU countries.

But British lawyers fear the proposals will lead to more miscarriages of justice on the continent. Steven Jakobi, director of Fair Trials Abroad, said he had serious concerns about the impact of many of the measures. In a letter written to the Finnish Prime Minister, Paavo Lipponen, who takes over the European presidency today, Mr Jakobi warns: "It will sadden you to note that we consider that with the measures at present formulated to go before the meeting it is potentially the greatest threat to the civil liberties of the European citizens since World War Two."

Fair Trials Abroad, the only European organisation with a remit to monitor criminal justice systems across Europe, has conducted research which highlights an alarming disparity between EU criminal justice systems.

Mr Jakobi identifies Greece, Portugal, Spain and Belgium as countries which have problems. Last year a monitoring system set up by the Council of Europe also revealed political interference and corruption in the judiciary of some countries. Belgium's criminal justice system was recently criticised after Bridget Seisay, a Briton, was released from prison having been wrongly convicted of trafficking in human beings.

Mr Jakobi argues that without proper balances set against the proposed powers more people will experience injustice. Fair Trials Abroad recommends the introduction of Euro-bail as a check against a Euro-wide arrest warrant.