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We should celebrate Magna Carta by abolishing the European Arrest Warrant

The European Arrest Warrant is incompatible with our traditions. If the only way to abolish it is to leave the EU, let’s leave

13 June 2015

9:00 AM

13 June 2015

9:00 AM

On the 12th of January, 500 of the great and good, or at any rate the well-heeled, sat down to a sumptuous dinner at the Guildhall at a cost of £500 a head. This was to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, widely regarded as one of the most important documents in the world.

Celebrate? A funeral procession would have been more appropriate. Clause 38 provided,

‘No judicial officer shall initiate legal proceedings against anyone on his own mere say-so, without reliable witnesses brought for that purpose.’

Yet the British government had given away, less than three months earlier, the protection provided by that clause. It voluntarily ‘opted in’ to the European Arrest Warrant. This is the legislation about which David Cameron, back when he was in opposition, said,

‘Let us be clear about what it means. One of our constituents goes to Spain on holiday, commits an alleged offence, and returns home. All that is necessary is that the warrant is correctly filled out.’

So there is no requirement for any evidence that he committed a crime. This is quite extraordinary.

Any member state of the EU may demand, without any evidence, that our government arrest a UK citizen and hand him over to await possible trial for a crime he is suspected of having committed. I must be exaggerating? That could not possibly be true? Well, I am not and it is.

The UK was under no obligation to opt in. Cameron chose to. As Christopher Gill, one-time Maastricht rebel, says, ‘All this from the very man who wants to see powers repatriated back to the UK!’ Or Torquil Dick-Erikson, ‘The European Arrest Warrant is unjust and oppressive, and tramples on our historic rights and freedoms.’

At the dinner, speeches were given by the Foreign Secretary and the Master of the Rolls in praise of Magna Carta, but not a word was said about this voluntary surrender of Magna Carta’s guarantee to UK citizens. This is typical of the way the ‘establishment’ happily ignores what does not suit it. Another example: I was honoured to be invited to the main celebration to be held on 15 June at Runnymede, and delighted to discover there would be debates. At last, I thought, an opportunity to discuss the arrest warrant. No: ‘The debate sessions will be a series of short recorded talking head commentaries….’ Some debates! I shall not go.

Late last year, 38 Tory MPs voted against the government on the European Arrest Warrant. That a legal challenge soon followed cannot have been a surprise. I tried to get a High Court injunction against Britain opting in, as it would make Magna Carta almost irrelevant.

Yet a large group of top lawyers, including a former president of the Supreme Court and the current president of the Law Society, wrote to the Daily Telegraph (just before the challenge had been initiated), saying that unless the government did opt in, the UK would be more at risk from foreign criminals. It is hard to think of anything which could have put more pressure on a court than a letter from such an impressive group of legal luminaries. In my view, those who signed the letter should — in spite of, indeed partly because of, their distinction — be ashamed of themselves. In a criminal case their intervention might have been contempt of court.

Two QCs had advised me that I had, at the very least, an arguable case that the government could not legally opt in. So, in spite of the Telegraph letter, I proceeded. I lost. I do not say the decision was wrong. Nor do I say that the court was biased. But if justice is not merely to be done but to be seen to be done, the lawyers have failed.

But does the European Arrest Warrant matter? Yes it does. In the past year nearly 8000 of these warrants were received by the UK, and presumably the great majority of our citizens involved were indeed sent to the requesting state. There have been serious injustices. I have space for only one.

Keith Hainsworth, 64, a tutor in Ancient Greek returning from a weekend in Paris, was handed over by British Customs in Calais to the French, on the basis of a European Arrest Warrant issued by Greece. He was thrown into a French police cell, banned from speaking to his wife or a lawyer, accused of ‘malicious arson’ in Greece, and finally flown to Greece from France under armed guard. He was thrown into a notorious Athens jail and then transported, together with menacing Greek criminals, on a nine-hour journey by prison transfer wagon.

One might think that this constituted ‘degrading treatment’, danger of which has the result, according to the ‘Framework Decision’ governing European Arrest Warrants, that the person concerned should not be extradited. But I suspect that argument would not get far. He was finally freed and returned home when it turned out that the only evidence against him was given by a mischief-maker so notorious that when his name was disclosed in the Greek court, there was giggling. Mr Hainsworth now faces a legal bill of £40,000. This is intolerable. If a British court had had a chance to call evidence, it would have been obvious that there was no case for extradition.

There is other important EU legislation to which we ought not to have agreed, especially to do with ‘dual criminality’, which means that a UK citizen may be extradited for an action which is no crime in this country. The European Arrest Warrant is, however, the crucial one.

As Christopher Gill put it in a recent speech,

‘What an irony it is that in this very year in which we might well have been celebrating the 200th anniversary of the defeat of the 19th-century manifestation of continental totalitarianism, the focus will instead be upon the 800th anniversary of “Magna Carta”, the fundamental tenets of which this government has so recently, deliberately and gratuitously trashed!’

What is done is done. There is only one way now to get rid of the European Arrest Warrant and I welcome it. We must leave the EU.

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