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Fair Trials Abroad criticises increasing imbalance between EU security agenda and the protection of civil liberties
01 September 2000
"The Post Tampere process is currently perpetuating and increasing the imbalance between "Security" matters of prosecution and crime prevention on the one hand, and "Freedom" matters of defence and the protection of civil liberties on the other. The very fabric of Justice is at stake. We would urge both national and European Parliamentarians to oppose any increase in International law enforcement powers to, under whatever guise they appear, until visible progress is made in safeguarding Citizens rights". - Fair Trials Abroad, September 2000
The UK legal rights group Fair Trials Abroad (FTA), has responded angrily to the European Commission's communication (or 'white paper') on the "Mutual recognition of final decisions in criminal matters" - the EU proposals to make the judgments and sentences of member states' courts enforceable across the whole of the Union (see current Statewatch bulletin, vol 10 no 3/4 and Statewatch news online, June 2000).
At last year's October summit in Tampere, Finland, EU governments agreed that a package of measures aimed at simplifying and expediting international judicial cooperation should be developed. This includes the "mutual recognition programme" which is currently being discussed by EU Council working parties. The legislative programme includes not only the mutual recognition of final decisions, but pre-trial orders - including arrest warrants, witness summons and orders to seize evidence and assets (background). [TB: this link takes us to bottom of page]
After Tampere, FTA produced a briefing entitled "Protecting the citizen against injustice in the European Legal Space" (November 1999) in which they expressed various concerns about suspects' rights and civil liberties arising from the Tampere Conclusions. FTA proposed a "twin-track" approach to ensure equal weight is given to the fight against crime and the protection of civil liberties.
Since then, the Council of the EU has drafted its "programme of measures to implement the principle of mutual recognition in criminal decisions" (June 2000), and the Commission has made clear its position in a communication to the Council and the European Parliament (July 2000). Few of FTA's concerns appear have even been considered by the Council or the Commission, and they have again reiterated their main concerns. These are:
the adequate provision of state funded legal representation;
the availability of competent interpretation and translation; and
the continued existence of trials in absentia in some member states;
FTA conclude that there serious imbalances in the Amsterdam Treaty commitment to create a "genuine area of Freedom, Security and Justice" and call for national and European Parliamentarians to oppose any increase whatsoever in international law enforcement powers until citizens' rights have been safeguarded. Were such an opposition successful, the EU's police cooperation and law enforcement programme would be in tatters. Current proposals that will increase "international law enforcement powers" include the creation of "EUROJUST" (the European Public Prosecutions agency), amendments to the Europol Convention to extend its mandate, extending the scope of cross-border surveillance in the framework of the Schengen convention and a convention to improve mutual assistance in criminal matters.
"The mutual recognition of criminal judgments in the EU: will the free movement of prosecutions create barriers to genuine criminal justice?", Statewatch News Online, June 2000: Mutual recognition "Mutual recognition of judicial decisions", feature article, Statewatch bulletin vol 10 no 3/4 (August 2000)
"Tampere European Council: An "Area of Freedom, Security & Justice" or "an obsession with security", feature article, Statewatch bulletin vol 9 no 3/4 (August 1999)
"Mutual recognition of final decisions in criminal matters", Communication from the European Commission to the Council and the European Parliament, 26.