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Allister defends British justice system from EU encroachment

22 February 2005

Speaking during a debate on criminal justice in the European Parliament, Ulster QC and MEP Jim Allister declared his opposition to a process of harmonisation of the criminal justice systems of Europe which he maintains will emasculate our prized British justice system.


In the course of his speech, Mr Allister said, "I have no difficulty with the sensible exchange of information about criminal convictions between member states, but only the politically blind would fail to recognise the proposals in the Costa report as part of the harmonisation process that is underway in criminal justice across Europe, in anticipation of the EU Constitution, within which the harmonisation of criminal justice has a key role.


I am opposed to an EU criminal justice system established on the continental model, with its inherent assault upon the essential building blocks of our distinctive and historic British Common Law system, not least trial by jury, habeas corpus and the separation of the Judiciary from the investigative process.


The clear mechanism for creating the EU criminal justice system is harmonisation of national laws, mutual recognition of judicial and extra-judicial decisions and, very critically, the giving to the EU of the power to set down common definitions of criminal offences and sanctions for serious crime.  Thereby the British Common Law system and its independence will be weakened and ultimately destroyed.


The Costa report, despite its plausible verbiage, is part of that process and therefore I will vote against it."


Notes to editors:


1.         As a QC who specialised in criminal law, Jim Allister naturally takes a keen interest in criminal justice matters within the EU.


2.         British justice is built on the historic principles of Common Law.  European Law is based on the codified approach linked back to Roman law.  The two are quite different, with trial by jury, habeas corpus, separation of the judiciary from the investigative process and our own particular rules governing the admissibility of evidence, being some of the distinctive features of the British system.


3.         Articles I-42, III-260, 269-270 of the proposed EU Constitution set the framework for the harmonisation of national laws and mutual recognition of judicial and extra-judicial decisions and Article III-271 gives the EU power to set common definitions of criminal offences and sanctions for all serious crime with a cross border dimension.


4.         Under the Constitution "Eurojust", which links justice systems across the EU, would have its powers extended from "co-ordination" of criminal prosecutions to include also "initiation" and extension of its field of action would be permitted (Article III-273).


5.         An EU Public Prosecution Office is proposed in the Constitution (Article III-274) to undertake EU prosecutions in national courts.

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