Just when we might have been persuaded that Brexit really did mean Brexit – what do we learn? We learn that Home Secretary Amber Rudd has told the national security strategy committee that, inter alia, “Britain would try to remain in European security organisations and systems such as Europol – the EU’s law enforcement agency – and the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) after Brexit”. (Daily Telegraph report 7th March 2016).
The general perception of the EAW, depending upon one’s own particular outlook, is that it is either an unqualified good or a necessary evil, but how many of us actually understand that what it does in practice is to allow the ‘powers that be’ in any one of the 28 EU Member states to order the arrest of any citizen, throughout the EU’s territories, without a shred of evidence that the poor unfortunate has actually committed an offence.
Until the passing of the Extradition Act 2003 (enacting the EAW) we British could justifiably claim to have been a free people simply because the English common law, with its roots in Magna Carta, protected us against coercion by the State – in other words we couldn’t have our liberty taken away without evidence that we had broken the law; without witnesses to testify to that effect; without being charged with a specific offence and without that charge being made in open court.
Since time immemorial British subjects have enjoyed protection against false accusation, arbitrary arrest and wrongful imprisonment by dint of the Presumption of Innocence; the right to Trial by Jury; the right to Silence; the inadmissibility of hearsay evidence; the withholding of previous convictions; Press reporting restrictions whilst matters are sub judice; protection against Double Jeopardy, (i.e. being charged again with an offence that one has previously been acquitted of); and, crowning this list of invaluable defences and protections against state-inspired coercion, the law of Habeas Corpus, once described by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as being “such an incredible part of Freedom”!
Notwithstanding that it truly is ‘such an incredible part of freedom’ the law of habeas corpus has, since 2003, been negated by the European Arrest Warrant (see the learned Opinion of Jonathan Fisher QC at this site: savebritishjustice)
In November 2014 the Government could, without in any way breaching the terms of the EU treaties, have withdrawn the UK from the iniquitous EAW regime but that was not the wish of the then Home Secretary, now Prime Minister, Theresa May – any more than it is today the wish of her successor in that office, Amber Rudd!
So there we have it! The two top people in our supposedly pro-Brexit Government both in favour of the state retaining the power to arrest its citizens without evidence!
Readers of this column will not need me to explain that ceding to the State the power to incarcerate its citizens without the necessity to even provide prima facie evidence of wrong-doing is nothing short of tyranny.
The supreme irony in all of this is that there can be absolutely no doubt that Theresa May, Amber Rudd and a huge swathe of other Parliamentarians agree with my argument – why else has our Government agreed to shell-out millions of taxpayers’ money in compensation to former detainees in Guantanamo Bay?
Answer: Because those people were deprived of their liberty without there ever being any evidence produced in a court of law that justified their detention and without any charge ever having been levied against them!
In a word, they were denied the very basic and fundamental principles of the ‘common law’ that we British had for so long taken for granted and which, we now learn, are most likely not going to be fully restored as part of Brexit!
The very least our Government should insist upon is that all requests for extradition are accompanied by prima facie evidence (of an offence having actually been committed) that can then be examined in a British court of law before extradition is either granted or refused.
Meanwhile, caveat emptor (buyer beware) – on an entirely different subject, do not for one minute assume that the Tories will regain the exclusive right of British fishermen to fish in exclusively British waters i.e. out to 200 miles or the median line. But that is a story for another day …