The debate about the European Arrest Warrant predictably produced an ungainly mess. The pro and con sides mounted their rhetorical steeds and rode them into the joust, with only our constitution unsaddled in the end.
In the process Dave came within nine votes of losing the Commons, which may yet become a big problem for him. What is already a gigantic problem for us is that neither side seemed to understand the real issue at stake.
The Warrant effectively replaces, yet again, the law of our nation with the quasi-legal denationalised regulations imposed by the EU.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the English Common Law is inadequate when it comes to extradition, which inadequacy may at times be detrimental to justice.
Yet superseding it with a law of foreign provenance will do infinitely more damage even in the short term. Over time this will prove catastrophic.
Essentially the Warrant will enable police officers from any EU country to arrest, or demand practically instant extradition of, any British subject for any transgression, regardless of whether or not it would be illegal in the UK.
The argument in favour of this crypto-totalitarian measure is that career criminals will presumably find it harder to stay on the run. That may be, although I doubt that the few lifelong fugitives one has heard of will ever present a serious danger to our constitution.
But one way or the other it doesn’t really matter. The constitutional issues at stake are much more vital than the purely utilitarian considerations.
Britain has by far the best and the oldest system of justice in Europe. It’s not ideal, for nothing in this world is, except perhaps a decent single malt after dinner.
However, eschewing absolute standards in favour of relative ones, there’s nothing about our laws for which we have to apologise to anyone in Europe, including its most civilised parts.
If our laws are being abused or not applied properly, then such mechanical problems must be fixed internally. However, replacing our laws with those of different provenance, different principles and different design is tantamount to ditching a car because its ashtray is full.
Many cornerstones of the English Common Law, such as jury trial, the right to refuse to provide self-incriminating evidence, double jeopardy, habeas corpus etc., either don’t exist in many European countries or are treated as mere statements of intent.
And even in places where they do exist, such cornerstones have no patina of age that can only come from centuries of trial and error.
I for one would hate to be tried in a country where a mere generation ago people were put into concentration camps for disagreeing with the government, especially if my crime wouldn’t be treated as such in Britain.
If, after committing such a non-crime in, say, Bucharest and then returning home, I’d hate to find at my London doorstep a couple of Romanian cops armed with handcuffs and the European Arrest Warrant. So would any Brit, and some have suffered this outrage already.
By debating this vital issue solely, or even mainly, on the basis of utilitarian considerations, our MPs show how little they understand the very essence of their country.
Dave’s flagship policy, that of scrapping the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a new Bill of Rights, guaranteeing, among other novelties, freedom of the press we’ve had since at least William III, shows exactly the same failing.
Given the choice between the two documents, any right-thinking person would instantly cast his vote for neither.
The very philosophy of the English law precludes any need for a written document to enshrine a practice that has already been enshrined by centuries of experience.
We don’t need the state to protect our traditional liberties. We need to have our traditional liberties protected from the state.
When the state attacks such liberties, which it does with increasing regularity, the counterattack can be launched in the time-honoured battleground of our own courts and Parliament – no help from a piece of paper is needed, thank you very much.
That Blair’s Human Rights Act, policed by the European Court of Human Rights, is toxic is beyond dispute (just consider the source). But Dave’s brainchild, another Bill of Rights, is just as defective in the context of the world’s most ancient extant constitution.
And you know what is the scariest thing of all? That such things need saying at all – in a country that centuries ago showed the world the value of just laws based on national experience lovingly collected and passed on from one generation to the next.
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