Britons face extradition for 'thought crime' on net
British citizens will be extradited for what critics have called a "thought crime" under a new European arrest warrant, the Government has conceded.
Campaigners fear they could even face trial for broadcasting "xenophobic or racist" remarks - such as denying the Holocaust - on an internet chatroom in another country.
The Government has undertaken that if such "offences" take place in Britain the perpetrators would not be extradited - but it will be for the courts to decide the location of the crime.
This opens up the prospect of a judge agreeing to extradite someone whose observations, though made in Britain, were broadcast exclusively in a country where they constitute a crime.
Legislation now before Parliament will make "xenophobia and racism" one of 32 crimes for which the European arrest warrant can be issued without the existing safeguard of dual criminality. This requires that an extraditable offence must also be a crime in the UK.
Alongside the arrest warrant, EU ministers are negotiating a new directive to establish a common set of offences to criminalise xenophobia and racism.
Countries such as Germany and Austria have crimes such as denying the Holocaust which have no equivalent in Britain. Under current laws, if a British citizen committed this offence in Germany and returned to the UK, he could not be extradited.
However, this will change when the arrest warrant becomes law next year. Lord Filkin, the Home Office minister, told MPs: "If someone went to Germany and stood up in Cologne market place and shouted the odds, denying the Holocaust, and then came back [to Britain], they would be subject to extradition under the European arrest warrant."
Holocaust denial laws are in place in seven EU countries but they would be a big departure for Britain, where a risk of fomenting public disorder is needed before a thought becomes a crime.
A German historian who claimed that Auschwitz prisoners enjoyed cinemas, a swimming pool and brothels was sentenced to 10 months in jail.
Lord Filkin has insisted that no one would be extradited "in respect of conduct which has occurred here and which is legal here". But when he was asked by the European scrutiny committee of the House of Commons whether comments originating in Britain but carried abroad on television or through an internet chatroom would be extraditable, he said: "It will be for the courts to decide."
While he was adamant that a British citizen would not be extradited for a xenophobia or racism offence if part of the conduct took place in the UK, the committee asked whether this principle would be made clear in the Extradition Bill now before Parliament.
The proposed EU directive would extend the offences of racism and xenophobia to include discrimination on the grounds of religious conviction - something that was dropped by the Government more than a year ago following fierce opposition.
Britain has negotiated a deal under which the offences will only apply when they involve incitement to violence. Lord Filkin said this was in line with current UK race laws.
However, Britain has been forced to concede a review after two years at which point the directive could be extended to opinions that are simply considered offensive and not just those likely to incite violence. Agreement on the directive has been held up because some EU countries want a "low threshold for criminality on these issues".
Philip Duly, campaign manager for the Freedom Association, said the Government should protect citizens from extradition for what he called "thought crimes".
He added: "The Government has previously maintained that no one will be extradited for conduct which is not a crime in the UK. But here we have Lord Filkin admitting that there are circumstances which will be decided not by ministers but by courts."