Ukip man challenges arrest warrant

Published: Friday 14th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Former UK Independence Party treasurer Stuart Wheeler has launched a legal challenge against Britain’s proposed opt-in to the European arrest warrant (EAW).

Mr Wheeler has indicated he is prepared to spend up to £150,000 of his own money to use the courts to try to prevent the Government opting back into the scheme, which facilitates cross-border extradition within the European Union (EU).

On Monday, the Government won its highly controversial bid to sign up again to 35 EU justice measures – including the EAW – following a dramatic Commons vote.

Both Labour and backbench Tory MPs accused ministers of breaking a promise for a vote on the warrant itself, and Commons Speaker John Bercow said people would be “contemptuous” of the Government’s tactics.

Early on Tuesday Mr Wheeler filed his application for judicial review, and today, in one of the speediest legal actions of its kind, it came before three senior judges – Sir Brian Leveson, president of the Queen’s Bench Division, sitting with Mr Justice Jay and Mr Justice Lewis.

Britain opted out of 130 EU justice policies last year in an effort to repatriate power from Brussels. The Government needed parliamentary assent to opt back into 35 measures it deems vital to national security.

Today Richard Gordon QC, appearing for Mr Wheeler, told the court that any move by Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May to notify the EU authorities of the UK’s wish to accept the EAW Framework Decision would be “an unlawful act”.

The QC argued that the Government would be exceeding its powers under the 2011 European Union Act without first introducing a new Act of Parliament – and holding a referendum.

Mr Gordon also contended the move would “breach a legitimate expectation” that there would be a parliamentary vote on the warrant before an opt-in.

Mrs May has told journalists the reason for opting back in to the scheme was the need “to co-operate with other member states to fight crime, prevent terrorism and protect the public”.

Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg told the BBC: “She’s not only wrong but it’s a particularly silly thing to say. We have our own laws to enforce against criminals in this country, and who we decide to extradite is a matter of UK law, with friendly nations. It’s a highly exaggerated point of view.”

Commenting on his legal challenge, Mr Wheeler has said: “I am cooperating closely with Jacob on this issue but I must make clear that this is not a story about trying to get a defector, it is a story about trying to protect the liberties of the British people.”

James Eadie QC, appearing for the Government, said the Wheeler interpretation of the European Union Act was “untenable”.

He also argued that there plainly was no legitimate expectation that there would be a parliamentary vote specifically dealing with the EAW before the Government could opt back in.

Mr Eadie warned that today’s legal challenge was potentially “a wrecking ball” for the opt-in.

A statement was put before the judges from Peter Storr, international director at the Home Office, who warned that anything which precluded the Government from taking the necessary steps for the opt-in would be “very damaging”.

Mr Storr said if the legal uncertainty extended beyond the middle of next week, “that would create conditions which would risk the UK not being able to give any effect at all to its intention to opt in to the 35 specified measures on December 1 2014”.

It would also “raise the prospect of an ‘operational gap’ between the UK’s opt-out and rejoining of those same measures.”

Mr Storr warned: “The risk to the UK’s position presented by this claim cannot therefore be under-estimated.”

The full package of measures – including the EAW – are to be voted on in the House of Lords on Monday – to the fury of Labour which plans to use an Opposition-led debate on Wednesday to force a vote in the Commons on the warrant and the other measures not explicitly approved last week.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This is just more shambles and confusion from Theresa May.

“It’s completely undemocratic to deny the House of Commons a vote on the European arrest warrant and the full 35 measures, but to try to slip one through in the Lords instead.

“The Home Secretary should now admit she got this completely wrong, open up the Government to legal challenge and immediately hold a vote in the Commons on the 24 measures MPs wanted to vote on – including the European arrest warrant.

“There is no reason for her not do this, except that she is still running scared of the Eurosceptics in her own party.”

The judges said they would give a decision after 3pm today. The Court of Appeal is on stand-by to hear any appeal from either side on Monday.

Published: Friday 14th November 2014 by The News Editor

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