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Are all justice systems equal?

The answer, as you have already guessed, is no. Most likely you would not expect a competent and fair trial in, say, Zimbabwe. However, many people think that in any European country they would be tried with judicial rules similar to Britain’s and equal in the protections they give the accused.

When the European Arrest Warrant was being introduced in 2003, I remember listening to Any Questions. Three of the four panelists could see no reason why we should consider any European justice system inferior to our own. The fourth panelist was Frederick Forsyth. Only Forsyth vehemently disagreed, and spoke eloquently about Britain’s justice system.

Since 2003 Britain has been signed up to the European Arrest Warrant. It is part of the wonderful price we are paying for being in the European Union. A recent case illustrates the hazards of justice in continental Europe. These hazards will be multiplied if the veto on Justice and Home Affairs is given away in the forthcoming “constitutional” treaty.

Torquil Dick-Erikson has brought to our attention the case of Enrico Mariotti. He is an Italian, convicted in the Italian courts in his absence of a kidnap and murder. The evidence was so extremely flimsy that in Britain he would not have been charged. The “evidence” was hearsay reported of a dead man fifteen years after the event by a convict who was rewarded for his testimony.

In Italy a suspect can be kept in jail while awaiting trial and while the prosecution goes about the leisurely business of gathering the evidence. In other words, you are guilty before being charged, and there is no habeas corpus as there is in Britain, where you are either charged or released for lack of sufficient evidence. Also Italy has no automatic right to bail, so you are locked up until the trial starts, and the trial can be very lengthy, in this case six and a half years. There is no right to swift justice, as called for in Magna Carta. Further, in Italy the trial takes place before professional career judges, who are colleagues of the prosecutor. There is no possibility of a jury.

At the beginning of this process, Mariotti fled to Britain as a fugitive. He has lived in Britain since 1993. When the Italians made an extradition request in 1998, Jack Straw, who was then Home Secretary, did not allow his extradition under the Extradition Act of 1989 because he considered the evidence against Mariotti too flimsy. However John Reid, who allowed hundreds of real murderers to wander around Britain, has just sent Mariotti back to Italy under the Extradition Act of 2003, which introduced the European Arrest Warrant. On May 17 the Home Office sent Mariotti to Italy to serve a 26-year-sentence.

As Torquil Dick-Erikson writes, “This government has cynically thrown Mariotti to the Italians. . . to show that Britain is ready. . . to abandon our centuries-old tried and tested system of justice and to adopt the continental inquisitorial system, which regularly produces absurdities and falsehoods.” Mr Mariotti was Italian, but that is not significant. Even if he had been a British subject, and an extradition request came from any EU country, Romania, say, it would be executed in Britain just as if it had been issued by a British magistrate.

Of course, one might wonder how Mr Mariotti was able to sail into Britain in the first place.

For more on the dangers of the EU's corpus juris, check out Ret. British Magistrate David Rowlands' rather terrifying precis.

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