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Nick Pickles: European justice can be strengthened by a Home Affairs opt-out

PICKLES NICKNick Pickles is Director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch. Follow Nick on Twitter.

If Britain opts-out of the EU Home Affairs and Justice arena, it will not be the end of cross-border justice. It will be a wake-up call that substantial threats to the liberties of British people cannot be ignored and urgent reform is essential.

Today sees the launch of a campaign group, Justice Across Borders, backed by former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy and former Labour Home Secretary Charles Clarke. They claim that such a move would be the end of cross-border co-operation and to quote one director of the campaign, make it harder to get justice.

Quite simply this is nonsense.

Exercising an opt-out presents present the perfect opportunity to reform flaws in the system. It also gives us the opportunity to assess how we want to integrate our criminal justice system with a continental system that often works very differently to our own.

Rightly or wrongly, the European Arrest Warrant, while only one of 130 specific police and justice measures covered by the opt-out, has become symbolic of the issue.

The experience of Maggie Hughes, one of the campaign’s founders, is as harrowing as one can imagine – a campaign to bring the thugs who nearly killed her son while on holiday in Crete to justice. They were ultimately brought before a Cretan court after a European Arrest Warrant was issued for their arrest.

Not a single right-minded person would object to such a legal mechanism.

However, there are also numerous cases of innocent lives being torn apart by exactly the same legal process and it would be wholly wrong to turn a blind eye to them. As Fair Trials International Argue, “the current system is actually resulting in cases of serious injustice.”

Parliament has heard many shocking tales of this injustice, with Nick de Bois, Conor Burns and Dominic Raab all making clear and compelling arguments about the need for reform the EAW. However, calls for reform have not led to the changes necessary to protect the liberties of British people and until they do, Britain should opt-out.

We are not going to refuse to hand over criminals, nor is it going to mean European states refuse to co-operate with British investigations.

Exercising the British opt-out on the EU Home Affairs and Justice measures is the right approach to ensuring Britain is part of an effective legal system that protects liberties and due process. Indeed, while some measures are clearly valuable – and I expect would be re-incorporated swiftly – others have little impact or duplicate existing UK law, while others do not direct affect the UK and some are redundant.

The challenge now is for the Home Secretary to take forward work on identifying necessary reforms, out-dated practices and those areas where Britain would wish to opt-in immediately. If that challenge is met, we can enhance the protection of British liberties, defend our legal tradition and strengthen the European justice system. 


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