Extradition law may give EU police power of arrest in Britain
By Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor
Fears that foreign policemen could be given powers to arrest people in Britain have emerged as a significant threat to Government extradition reforms.
MPs plan to challenge David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, to make clear in legislation that the new European Arrest Warrant will not allow other European Union police agencies or Europol to operate in Britain.
The warrant will form the centrepiece of an Extradition Bill to be debated in the next session of Parliament. It will simplify procedures for the arrest and extradition of British citizens to other EU countries.
Whereas in the past, extradition was possible only for a crime that was also an offence in Britain, this "dual criminality" safeguard is being waived for 32 offences. They include several that are not specific crimes in Britain, such as xenophobia.
Critics have voiced deep concern over the Bill, already published in draft form, because it would allow arrests under the warrant to be carried out by a constable or an "appropriate person".
It would not be necessary for the arresting authority to be in possession of the warrant, provided it can be produced at the first realistic opportunity. It will be for the Home Secretary to designate who is an "appropriate person".
Such open-ended powers have alarmed civil liberties groups and leading jurists, who say they are too vague and open to abuse. The Commons home affairs select committee - which has been examining the Bill - is certain to demand safeguards.
Although "appropriate persons" are likely to include Customs and Excise and immigration officers, ministers have refused to say who they have in mind.
Euro-sceptic critics suspect that this is to allow for a future designation of Europol officers as part of EU moves towards a common judicial area.
Leolin Price, QC, an expert on European constitutional law, said: "Arrest for deportation without the general protection of extradition procedures is an alarming novelty in this country.
If it were to be made by an officer of the member state where the warrant is issued, the novelty and the alarm would be worse."
He added: "It is difficult to see why the Home Secretary should have an open-ended discretion to specify 'appropriate persons'. He should tell us . . . who are to be his 'appropriate persons' to make these extraordinary new arrests."
The call was echoed by Clive Nicholls, QC, representing the civil liberties group Liberty. In its response to a consultation exercise about the Bill, the Law Society has also called for the arresting authority to be defined, and says there should be a specific obligation to provide the suspect with a copy of the warrant.
The measure, which implements an EU directive already accepted by ministers, is unlikely to encounter serious difficulties in the Commons, but there is strong opposition in the Lords - particularly among senior judges.
Earlier this year, Lord Scott, a law lord, said the definition of a xenophobia offence "would almost certainly cover the distribution of Biggles and probably the Old Testament".