|Vol.7, No.36, 4.10.01, p8
THE European Commission's most senior justice official has given his backing to EU-wide laws on bail, as member states prepare for a shake-up of the rules covering extradition. Adrian Fortescue, head of the justice and home affairs directorate, says that a European bail system could ensure that people facing charges in an EU country other than their own would not have to be kept in jail while awaiting trial.
The director-general said the Commission was considering proposals to avoid this. "It [European bail] is a perfectly sound idea which is actually being worked out now," Fortescue told European Voice. Civil liberties groups have for years been calling for a system of European bail to protect defendants' rights when current extradition procedures are scrapped. They say that foreigners facing trial abroad often suffer harsher treatment than local defendants and that judges often refuse to grant foreigners bail.
Although EU leaders promised to get tough on crime at the Tampere summit in 1999, there was no mention of extending bail laws across frontiers. UK campaign group Fair Trials Abroad says it knows of many cases involving tourists being forced to wait in cells for months or longer while they await trial, often for comparatively minor offences.
It warns that once extradition procedures are overhauled, making the transfer of suspects between member states much easier, many more people will find themselves stuck in foreign jails even though they have not been found guilty of any crime. The calls for bail laws have gained extra resonance after heads of government agreed at their extraordinary meeting last month to fast-track plans for a European arrest warrant, intended to partially replace extradition rules, as part of their clampdown on terrorism.
Fortescue says that European bail can do more than counter-balance the arrest warrant: "European bail could cover the difficulties a tourist can get into or indeed offences of any kind," he said. He is confident that there will be sufficient safeguards in the legislation proposed by his team to protect civil liberties and prevent abuse by over-zealous law enforcers.
In addition, he cited "well-advanced" plans for EU rules on legal aid, which could be unveiled later this month, as proof that the Commission was committed to protecting human rights.
The legal aid rules will ensure that EU citizens facing trial in another member state will enjoy the same rights as locals.
The European Commission's most senior justice official has given his backing to EU-wide laws on bail, as Member States prepare for a shake-up of the rules covering extradition.
|Justice and Home Affairs