UK citizens arrested abroad to get new rights - Clarke

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Carabinieri holding a suspect in Italy - file pic
Image caption,
Being arrested overseas can be an intimidating experience, the government says

British citizens arrested in other EU countries will always be told their rights in a language they understand under new plans, Ken Clarke has said.

The justice secretary has signed the UK up to a draft EU directive which, when it comes into force, will guarantee minimum standards of treatment.

The move was welcomed by campaigners for fair trials abroad.

But Eurosceptic Conservatives warned it was a further step towards a common EU criminal justice system.

Foreign nationals arrested in England and Wales are already provided with information on their rights in a language they can understand - with a "letter of rights" available in more than 20 different tongues.

'Increase security'

Currently, in six EU countries, including France, Denmark and Greece, detainees only get verbal information about their rights.

There is currently no "letter of rights" for foreign nationals arrested in Scotland - but the new directive would ensure that in future there would be.

When the EU directive comes into force, Britons will get similar treatment when they are arrested in other EU countries, which the government says will make being arrested overseas a less intimidating experience.

Announcing the move, in a written parliamentary statement, Mr Clarke said: "The draft directive will provide minimum standards for individuals subject to criminal proceedings.

"British citizens abroad will benefit under the directive from increased confidence in procedural standards across the European Union.

"It will also increase security at EU level by supporting existing provisions which help combat crime and promote the rule of law."

'Common system'

The Lisbon Treaty gives the EU institutions a bigger say on law and justice matters because the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is attached to the treaty.

Conservative MP James Clappison, a member of the Commons EU scrutiny committee, said opting in to the directive would further undermine the UK Parliament's control of home affairs policy.

He said: "The EU is trying to create a common criminal justice system and this is another step along the road towards that goal."

But the justice department said the directive did not represent a transfer of power to Brussels and was in in line with assurances on Europe and home affairs policy given in the coalition agreement.

Mr Clarke vowed to "approach forthcoming legislation in the area of criminal justice on a case-by-case basis, with a view to maximising our country's security, protecting Britain's civil liberties and preserving the integrity of our criminal justice system".

The decision to to opt in to the directive on the right to information in criminal proceedings was welcomed by civil liberties campaigners.

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said: "When people are travelling abroad they are particularly vulnerable to false accusations and other abuses of police power.

"We too often forget that well established standards of justice here in Britain do not run so deep throughout the whole of Europe, which ought to be creating a race to the top and not the bottom.

"It is good to see this example of Europe enhancing rather than diminishing fundamental rights and freedoms."

Jago Russell, chief executive of Fair Trials International, said he was "delighted" that the UK had decided to opt-in to the directive.

"Every week FTI is contacted by people arrested abroad who have received no information on their basic legal rights or the case against them. All too often the result is injustice.

"This new law is an important step towards protecting core defence rights across Europe."

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