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 EU trial in absence plan defended

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PostSubject: EU trial in absence plan defended   Thu Sep 04, 2008 3:18 am

The government has welcomed EU plans to allow British citizens to be tried in their absence in other member states.

British subjects could also be extradited automatically at the request of other EU states under the proposals.

Ministers say it will prevent them fleeing to other member states to escape justice and increase co-operation between legal systems.

But the Conservatives and UKIP say it undermines a fundamental principle of British justice.

Under the EU plan, courts would be allowed to pass judgement in criminal cases and when issuing fines or European Arrest Warrants without the defendants being present.

People accused in their absence would then have the right to a retrial or the right of appeal when extradited.

Rare

The plan was backed by the European Parliament by 609 votes to 60 and now goes to the Council of Ministers for final approval.

It is designed to end uncertainty among member states about whether to recognise in absentia judgements and to make the European Arrest Warrant more effective.

Now we can be dragged away to another country to rot in jail without there even being a pretence of a fair trial
Nigel Farage
UKIP leader


But opponents say it would represent a major change to British law, where trials in absentia were until 2001 banned and are still extremely rare.

Pieter Cleppe, of pressure group Open Europe, said: "This proposal could open the door to serious miscarriages of justice and ministers should not be supporting it."

Conservative justice and home affairs spokesman Philip Bradbourn told The Evening Standard: "It goes against one of the most fundamental cornerstones of British justice."

'Destroy freedoms'

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, said the plan removed basic rights long enshrined in British law.

"If we're accused we must be able to know who accused us. If we are to be tried for a crime we must be able to mount a defence.

"Yet now we can be dragged away to another country to rot in jail without there even being a pretence of a fair trial."

Mr Farage added: "If other European nations want to adopt our own higher protections, our greater civil liberties, then they are of course quite free to, without EU compulsion.

"But why should we destroy our own freedoms just to fit in with them?"

The Ministry of Justice said the plan would "increase legal certainty and improve mutual trust amongst member states".

A spokesman said: "The initiative will ensure that there is clarity as to when the courts of one member state recognise a decision taken by another member state in a person's absence.

"This will help ensure that a person cannot escape justice by fleeing to another member state, whilst also ensuring that persons are only returned where to do so is appropriate - for example where there will be a retrial."
Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/uk_politics/7596633.stm

Published: 2008/09/03 16:31:56 GMT

© BBC MMVIII
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