Fair Trials Abroad backs defence lawyers’ panel

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Series Details Vol 7, No.16, 19.4.01, p8
Publication Date 19/04/2001
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Date: 19/04/01

By John Shelley

A LEADING civil liberties group, backed by MEPs, wants the EU to set up a panel of defence lawyers to act as a counterbalance to the new office of public prosecutors, Eurojust.

Stephen Jakobi, of UK based campaign group Fair Trials Abroad, fears that innocent people could fall victim to wider cooperation between Europe's prosecuting agencies.

"It is perhaps no coincidence that this body was called Eurojust, thus yet again equating law enforcement with justice. Such an equation is the classic definition of the police state," says Jakobi.

"No one likes the idea of the guilty roaming free, but the presumption of innocence must insist that the protection of the not-guilty comes first."

Jakobi says it is vital to get defence lawyers involved at the European level to ensure the rights of the defendant are not forgotten as the EU takes steps to harmonise its justice systems.

In particular, he is concerned that judicial cooperation rules planned in the wake of the Tampere summit in 1999 will make it easier for judges in one European country to call for trial citizens from another.

"The Tampere conclusions contain 24 measures designed to aid interstate law enforcement, yet nothing has been proposed with regard to the handicaps citizens face when defending themselves against criminal accusations in countries other than their own," he says.

Jakobi is backed in his call for a defence lawyers' panel by British Liberal MEP Graham Watson, chairman of the Parliament's justice and home affairs committee. "I think it's a great idea. I would be putting my name to any budgetary changes that would be necessary to get this up and running.

"One of the things that worries me is that the emphasis on creating the area of freedom, security and justice has so far been almost entirely on the security and not on the freedom and justice," he said.

The details of how the panel would work are still to be hammered out. Jakobi says that its primary task would be to analyse anti-crime legislation to ensure that it does not compromise the rights of defendants.

The group, provisionally named Eurorights, could also help coordinate defence lawyers' working across borders and give advice on dealing with foreign legal systems.

The principal hurdle in getting Eurorights up and running would be persuading member states to agree to the plan, although Watson says he believes national lawyers' associations would unite behind it.

A preliminary version of Eurojust, which is made up of a senior prosecutor from each member state permanently based in Brussels, began work on 1 March. Agreement on a beefed up version of the body with stronger law-enforcing powers is due by the end of the year.

A leading civil liberties group, backed by MEPs, wants the EU to set up a panel of defence lawyers to act as a counter-balance to the new office of public prosecutors, Eurojust.

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Record URL https://www.europeansources.info/record/?p=257241