ANOTHER VIEW: Leeson's best hope for trial

ANOTHER VIEW
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The Independent Online
The fight by Nick Leeson, the former Barings futures trader, to avoid extradition from Germany to Singapore raises important points of principle. Extradition proceedings are frequently lengthy, technical and costly in this country and it seems that their problems are universal.

Leeson's bail application was doomed even though there can be little doubt that a native German would have been granted bail, albeit with strict conditions attached. In that respect Leeson shares his plight with British tourists accused of mayhem in Iberia and the unfortunate truckers accused of having drugs in their loads on remand in prisons throughout Europe.

The courts of Europe have a primary responsibility to ensure that the defendant is likely to turn up at future hearings, and with modern modes of swift travel it is hard to conceive of bail conditions that would prevent an absconder from fleeing the country. Would it not be better and more humane to have him bailed to Britain under local police supervision? Until the governments of the European Union solve the extradition problems involved in releasing European citizens on bail to reside in each other's countries, the foreigner will continue to be discriminated against despite the common citizenship created by the Treaty of Maastricht.

It was also noticeable that the subject of fairness of trial in Singapore was raised by Mr Leeson's lawyers, but dismissed by the German authorities. Xenophobia often plays its part in these matters, and Singapore has a bad human rights record due to its government's draconian use of the death penalty and fondness for corporal punishment. Nevertheless, unlike most other nations in South-east Asia, its legal reputation is good. We have yet to receive a valid complaint about the failure of its legal system to provide a fair trial by international standards to foreigners accused of non-political crimes. One might well comment, diplomatic niceties apart, that he would probably fare worse in many of the European Union countries.

Sadly, there are more than 1,200 Britons in the prisons of Europe at any one time and many hundreds awaiting trial. Mr Leeson is fortunate that he does not face the other major forms of discrimination inherent in the lack of harmonisation of justice between Europe's legal systems. Voluntary and cumbersome systems of transmitting evidence between countries often delay hearings for years, and frequently result in the absence of vital witnesses. Rules laid down by the European Court of Human Rights providing for interpreters at trial and translation of documents are widely flouted.

Better a foreign futures trader facing trial in Singapore than a victim of circumstance facing a soft drugs trial in France. We must ensure that these problems of harmonisation of justice are raised in the intergovernmental conference next year.

Stephen Jakobi is a lawyer, founder of Fair Trials International and a specialist on legal rights of Britons facing trial overseas.

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