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Mark Wallace
is the Campaign Manager of
The Freedom Association, a non-partisan pressure group
committed to the defence of personal and political liberty.

On Friday of
this week, John Reid will be asked for Britain’s assent to an almost
unbelievable proposal. At the meeting of the EU’s Justice and Home
Affairs Ministers, the Commission will present its plans for transferring
Justice and Home Affairs

from Pillar 3 to Pillar 1 of the EU system. In plain English, that would
mean nothing less than the abolition of the national veto on criminal
justice.

Home Affairs,
especially those regarding crime, have long been fiercely guarded by
the EU’s Member States. Having given up control of everything from
farming and trade to immigration, it was absolutely right that they
at least defend a key aspect of statehood: the punishment of criminals
and the protection of the people.

Unfortunately,
the Commission has developed quite a taste for controlling law and order.
Last year the European Court of Justice set a precedent in giving the Commission the right
to punish through criminal law those that breached its Environmental
policies, despite vocal opposition from 10 of the 15 Member States who
had signed the treaties on what they thought was a clear understanding
that criminal justice was reserved for national control.

Now, the EU
wants to go the whole hog. If the Home Affairs Ministers agree on Friday,
and the Heads of Governments agree at the end of the year, then criminal
justice and police co-operation will be transferred wholesale. 

Not only does
the Westminster Parliament stand to lose its control of what is and
is not a crime, even penalties will be decided at the EU level, undermining
democracy even further. Transferring control of the matter from the
Home Office, which does a bad enough job, to the notoriously wasteful
and inefficient EU bureaucracy will undoubtedly make the implementation
even worse, too. Once legislation has been introduced through EU channels,
the EU will gain sole control over that area, locking Parliaments out
of the process entirely. 

It doesn’t
end there, though. There is even more at risk than democratic control
of criminal law. The Commission has made it very clear that also on
the table is the judicial system itself. With majority voting, those
countries that enjoy the protections of the British legal tradition
(principally Malta, Ireland and ourselves) would find themselves consistently
outvoted by a majority that do not recognise such essential principles
as Habeas Corpus. Standardisation of legal procedure across the EU would
certainly not result in the bar being raised to the standard we enjoy,
but rather in many of our own freedoms being demolished.

It ought to
be a simple decision. With John Reid’s reputation for what could politely
be termed straight talking, one would expect him to tell the EU exactly
where to get off. If he did so, that would be the end of the matter,
as unanimity is required. Worryingly, he has avoided any commitment
on the matter, with the Home Office conveniently delaying its official
response to enquiries until the meeting is practically underway. Other
Government comments have been equivocal at best, far from the clear “No” which
would seem obvious. It is truly amazing that John Reid, supposedly cultivating
his hard man image for a shot at the Labour leadership, seems about
to roll over and give away the key responsibilities of his Office.

If the Government
are not going to stand up for freedom under the law and Parliamentary
control of criminal justice, then surely it is a perfect target for
the Opposition, who have thus far remained shamefully silent. If being
“in Europe and not run by Europe” means anything it all, it ought
to mean retaining national control of criminal justice at the very least.
David Davis surely does not believe it is acceptable for Home Office
powers to be given up, nor does Graham Brady, Shadow Europe Minister,
believe in ever closer Union, and yet thus far they have been inexplicably
silent. 
In tactical
terms this is a gaping open goal for the Conservative Party, and ideologically
there is a fundamental principle at stake. What would our nation be
if it did not control its own criminal law? What, for that matter, would
the Opposition be if it does not oppose these plans?

32 comments for: Mark Wallace: Democracy and Criminal Justice must be defended

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