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Sticking by habeas corpus and trial by jury

A Cowes man was part of a crew that delivered a former Royal Navy cutter to Agadir in 1997. Ten weeks later, a Spaniard and a Colombian were caught with two tons of cocaine on the boat. The boat had been searched on delivery to Agadir, so pretty clearly the Cowes yachtsman had nothing to do with the cocaine. However, he was interviewed by Interpol. Nothing more transpired.

Last month, he went to Italy, and was arrested on suspicion of being involved in the 1997 cocaine issue. In continental Europe there is no habeas corpus, so he was held in jail for several weeks in Pesaro before being released without charge. He did not consider his unwilling internment a holiday in Italy.

His case eerily resembles that of Chris Lees who was arrested in Spain on suspicion of a drug plot involving Moroccans, and spent 50 weeks in a Spanish jail before being released without charge. The Corpus Juris system involves arrest and imprisonment without charge while the authorities do their lesiurely investigation. This is the system in a large part of the world, including the European Union.

Trial by jury, where a suspect's guilt can be decided by the people rather than a representative of the state is another protection. The Government has tried five times to whittle away the cases that can be tried without a jury. The Queen's Speech yesterday proposed a juryless trial for serious fraud cases on the spurious grounds that the British people are unable to understand complex cases.

The British system of habeas corpus and trial by jury is a very significant bulwark for the rights of the individual against the overwhelming power of the state.