Monday, January 31, 2005

Undermining national sovereignty

It has to be one of the central tenets of sovereignty that citizens, or subjects, of a nation state are bound only by the laws of that nation. They should hold no fear of being rooted out of their beds by the boys in blue for any action on their part which is not specified as an offence in their own country.

It is, therefore, profoundly disturbing to read the report in The Daily Telegraph today which tells us that "ministers have been criticised for backing EU plans to allow police to raid the homes of people not suspected of breaking British law."

It appears that a "Labour-dominated committee of MPs" – i.e., a House of Commons select committee (why can’t they say so, instead of adopting these childish circumlocutions?) - has described the proposal for a European evidence warrant as "deeply disturbing".

It says the warrant could be used against a person accused of committing an offence in another EU country even if no British law was broken.

We are told that the proposal is still being negotiated in the EU and is not expected to become law for some time. But, says the Telegraph, the Home Office has angered the Commons European scrutiny committee by disclosing that it is not opposed to the principle of the police executing a search warrant in connection with conduct that would be legal in Britain.

The European evidence warrant follows the principle of the European arrest warrant, which came into force last January.

One of the most controversial aspects of the arrest warrant was that it generally abolished the principle of "dual criminality" - the rule that someone could be extradited only for conduct against the law in the country seeking extradition and against British law.

Now, we find that the European evidence warrant would also abolish dual criminality. Nevertheless, we understand that the proposal as it now stands would allow Britain a five-year exemption before that safeguard would be removed – as if that made it any better.

In a report last week, the committee said: "We found it disturbing that a person's home might be entered and searched at the request of a foreign authority for the purpose of obtaining evidence to prosecute conduct which is not criminal in this country."

The MPs raised the issue with Caroline Flint, the Home Office minister dealing with European evidence warrants. In a letter sent before Christmas she conceded that she was not opposed to the abolition of dual criminality.

According to the DT, she told the committee: "The application of the principle of mutual recognition to orders to obtain evidence is fundamental to improving the existing mutual legal assistance procedures, without resorting to extensive harmonisation of procedure." She also said dual criminality was not necessary in relation to search warrants "because mutual recognition is founded on the principles of equivalence and trust in each other's judicial systems".

It was left to Bill Cash, a Tory member of the committee, to say how the plan illustrated very clearly how British law was being undermined by Brussels. But it does more than that. It undermines the very basis of national sovereignty.

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