Democrat June 2000 (Number 44)
European Union wants to introduce a new legal system - Corpus Juris
Our home affairs correspondent explains how this would take away many fundamental and hard won rights
One of the many exasperating features of politics,
especially EU politics, is the way in which policies and laws of a
controversial or unpopular nature, are slowly insinuated into our
lives in the hope that few will notice, or that once the seeds of
an idea are sown, the idea will take root.
When Home Secretary Jack Straw argues that our court procedures are inefficient and costly and suggests part of the solution is to reduce the number of trials by jury, one might be forgiven for thinking there is a hidden agenda somewhere.
Anyone who has to spend time in our law courts, is painfully aware of the need to tighten up on chaotic administrative procedures, not only in Crown courts where jury trials are held, but also in magistrates courts and elsewhere. Unfortunately this chaos has been accepted as a matter of course, an irritation to be put up with.
To castigate our legal system and erode it because it is badly administered is no solution. The answer is to ensure that incompetence and slack administration is sorted out with a determination that has been missing for decades.
By raising the matter of inefficiencies in our courts and blaming even in part the jury system,
That system is outlined in the document Corpus Juris. This document emerged out of a meeting which took place in San Sebastian, Spain in April 1997 to which certain selected individuals were invited.
The meeting was low key and publicity, if any, was kept to an absolute minimum. UK citizens who should be consulted on this issue were not informed and indeed know very little of its implications today.
One of the stated intentions of Corpus Juris is to protect the EU budget from fraud. This is somewhat ironic when one is reminded that EU Commissioners and high ranking civil servants who, responsible for high level fraud in the last administration were not even dealt with in law. Instead they received golden handshakes and fat pensions. In contrast, experience suggests that anyone with sufficient courage to expose corrupt practices, can expect to be punished by the same administrators who rewarded the bureaucrats who it seems are exempt from the process of law outlined in Corpus Juris.
What then is Corpus Juris and how does it differ fundamentally from laws here?
Act of 1679
In Britain the Act of Habeas Corpus 1679, enacted to overcome repression at the whims of kings, clarified and helped to enforce traditional rights with regard to detention by public authorities. The writ of Habeas Corpus, directed those having custody of a prisoner to produce the body (habeas corpus) of the prisoner with a statement to justify his detention. There are of course many other facets to Habeas Corpus of which, space prevents further discussion here. Fundamentally however, it entitles an arrested citizen to be brought before a court and charged, within 60 hours of arrest. In addition the burden of proof lies with the prosecution.
European Public Prosecutor
Corpus Juris would ostensibly empower the European Public Prosecutor to imprison anyone for up to six months, renewable for a further three months, pending investigation, if they are alleged to be guilty of fraud which could damage the EU. The decision to prosecute is made by the EPP following which investigations are carried out to ascertain if there is enough evidence to prosecute. The reverse of UK law.
Mainland European courts consist of professional judges, not jurors or lay magistrates thus doing away with Habeas Corpus and Jury trials.
Objection to any trial publicity, whether in the public interest or not, by either side would result in proceedings in secret.
An explanatory memorandum states; `What we propose, is a set of rules which constitutes a kind of corpus juris (body of law) limited to the penal protection of the financial interests of the EU, designated to ensure, a largely unified European legal area, a fairer, simpler and more efficient system of repression.' Repression is exactly that which we tried to get rid of in 1679.
Reality is, Corpus Juris is about applying the same criminal justice system throughout Europe which, added to all the other policies will ensure that once we are in, there will be no way out. Eventually it will become clear that this system will cover a whole range of issues, not merely those concerned with the protection of EU financial issues.
Judge of Freedoms
The European Public Prosecutor will be based in Brussels with delegated prosecutors in the capital city of each member state. A Judge of Freedoms, whose duty it would be to see fair play, is part of the stable of the EPP.
Crime is of course a serious problem in modern society and has to be dealt with, but the architects of EU and Corpus Juris are obsessed with the one fits all philosophy of which common currency, common police force and single European Army, harmonised taxation and Schengen to deal with refugees and asylum seekers, are all part of the grand plan.
There is every indication that once the laws are in place, anyone deemed to be offending EU dictat will be dealt with by Europol and the EPP. The writing of an article such as this could be ruled as harmful to the EU.
John Mortimer, Barrister and creator of Rumpole, writing on May Day  in the Daily Mail, mentions that the Home Secretary had agreed the proposition that British police could be instructed to arrest British citizens on the order of a European judge. Those arrested could then be sent to be tried by systems without a writ of habeas corpus or the burden of proof placed on the prosecution.
He goes on to mention human failings, to point out that there is always room for improvement and that cases go wrong in the best of regulated law courts. The Crown Prosecution Service is no doubt inefficient, but just as some countries produced better painters or composers than us, we have, he says, `a fairer criminal law than our European neighbours.'
Protect what we have
The article finishes by pointing out that we should all, no matter what our political beliefs, fight hard to protect a system that has served us well.
Our legal rights are too precious to be thoughtlessly signed away. This is a judicial system to protect corporate capital not the interests of people.