Civil Rights and the current emergency - letter from Fair Trails Abroad
26th September 2001
Open Letter to
The Prime Minister
Ian Duncan Smith MP
Charles Kennedy MP
CIVIL RIGHTS AND THE CURRENT EMERGENCY
As this letter is being written the party conference season is in full swing and Parliament is being recalled. Security measures involving wider European interests as well as national interests are top of the agenda. Security is the concern of us all and we agree that part of the immediate way forward is to is to get measures in place to prevent any further attacks by terrorists. However, careful consideration must be given to the implementation of parallel, suitable civil liberties safeguards.
Fair Trials Abroad is a unique legal rights organisation concerned with the rights of European citizens to due administration of justice when facing criminal trial whilst travelling abroad.
Current plans to promote the Eurowarrant and abolition of extradition safeguards within the Union is fraught with danger for innocent citizens. These measures rest on two assumptions: that the standards set by the European Court in Strasbourg are being implemented in practice throughout the Union and that a high level of democratic involvement and respect for the rule of law exists uniformly throughout all Member States.
All our casework and research experience provides compelling evidence that the ECHR is unable to protect the legal rights of the defendant in the current case by case approach of the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg. Principles embraced by the law on fair trial are routinely ignored or ill served. Access to justice and a fair trial is not routine in cases where the defendant is not a citizen of the country in which the alleged offence has occurred: competent legal advice on legal aid is rarely provided and interpreting and translation services are at best, minimum.
Already the news is full of arrests and detention in relation to terrorist offences within the UK and elsewhere and over the coming months it is inevitable that many innocent British and other European Citizens, mainly of Arabic roots or connections, will be required for questioning by the authorities and eventually eliminated from enquiries.
The Eurowarrant would not only expose increasing numbers of innocent citizens from EU countries to such abuse of their fundamental rights as inadequate interpretation, but they would also have been uprooted from their own country to spend weeks if not months in a foreign prison whilst the investigation goes on.
We would call for a system of arrest and questioning in the country of the accused, with measures put in place for the evidence to be brought to the home court of the person rather than have the person transferred to the country(ies) where the evidence was found. It will therefore make it possible for citizens to be investigated, arrested and tried if necessary at home thus minimising the effects of mistakes and miscarriages of justice.
Furthermore, priority must be given to the upgrading and harmonisation of police investigation methods and evidence collection in many current EU member states (and the majority of candidate nations) in order to ensure safe convictions across the European Union.
In due course, and only when basic fundamental rights have been secured in practice as well as in principle throughout the Union, should consideration be given to the dismantling of safeguards inherent in current measures of extradition.
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