Terrorism in Europe: An International Comparative Legal Analysis

Terrorism in Europe: An International Comparative Legal Analysis

by Antonio Vercher, Vercher

This is a comparative study of the most outstanding emergency measures—legal, administrative, and executive—which are part of certain European anti-terrorist legal systems. It also highlights the existence of sufficient similarities between common and civil legal systems within the EEC framework to justify a more fluid integration between the relevant


This is a comparative study of the most outstanding emergency measures—legal, administrative, and executive—which are part of certain European anti-terrorist legal systems. It also highlights the existence of sufficient similarities between common and civil legal systems within the EEC framework to justify a more fluid integration between the relevant states seeking not only fuller European co-operation but also a prospective single jurisdiction to deal with the challenge of terrorism.

Editorial Reviews

Priscilla H. Machado
The overarching goal of Antonio Vercher's work, TERRORISM IN EUROPE: AN INTERNATIONAL COMPARATIVE LEGAL ANALYSIS is world peace. The book is dedicated to "the future generations in the name of peace." From this passionate and lofty position, Vercher presents a scholarly interpretation of the legal systems of a number of European countries to see whether a unified approach to combat terrorism is possible. The purpose of the book is to develop "a more effective, coherent and fair policy on counter- terrorism in Europe." Specifically, this means a unified system which fights terrorism yet is mindful of human rights. Vercher argues that the EEC could provide the framework to coordinate the fight against terrorism. Vercher describes, explains, and analyzes the legal systems of Great Britain, Germany, Italy, France and Spain. He presents the similarities and differences between the common law system of the English and the civil law continental systems to ascertain if any common policies can be derived. Vercher argues that some internal mechanisms used by countries to combat terrorism are similar enough to justify a consolidated policy. This, in addition to the already present legal structure of the EEC, could be the basis for a unified European system to counter terrorism. This unified state response to terrorism would be an important contribution toward world peace. Up until now the EEC has not developed a unified system because, Vercher argues, it is not politically expedient and bilateral cooperation gives states more freedom to deal with such a sensitive issue. Can these two drawbacks be overcome? Vercher needs to explore this point fully because it is important for the reader to understand why coordination would work now but did not in the past. A discussion why the time is now ripe for such coordination never fully takes place. The book is penned before the December 1991 Maastricht conference. However, even the brief postscript does not indicate that Community cooperation is preferred to independent national action. The reader needs to be convinced that past obstacles to a consolidated policy are no longer a hinderance and that the environment now is conducive to a unified counter-terrorism approach. This is an important step in accepting the rest of Vercher's argument. Vercher's methodology is not one of comparative doctrinal analysis. Instead he compares and contrasts certain key features of the common and civil law systems. Particularly, he considers internment, exclusion orders, arrest and detention, the use of informers and accomplice evidence, and the procedural functioning of courts. to illustrate that coordination among these countries is possible. These measures are given more depth and breadth by including a discussion of their history, their relationship with non-terrorism legal mechanisms, and the social and political context of these tools. Vercher however, never gives the advantages and disadvantages of the legal features he chooses to analyze. He does not explain the link between these legal tools of the states and how they will aid in achieving the goal of a unified European approach to terrorism. How and why does he select these particular items? A discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of his methodology would be useful to the reader and moreover, would link the methodology to his thesis. At times the reader is left wondering why he analyzes a particular legal mechanism and how this relates to his larger proposal. The discussion of each of the state tools to combat terrorism is interesting indeed. He begins with the British system. Vercher first discusses internment, defined as detention without trial of persons dangerous to the state. The historical development of this executive power is Page 52 follows: fascinating, with references to the infamous American internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. In dealing with the IRA, internment is not just tied to emergency powers during time of war, but is a negotiating tool and a mechanism to repress disorder. Exclusion orders, expulsion orders, restriction orders, and deportation all refer to banning persons from certain territories who are labeled terrorists. The aim is to prevent, not to punish. The general rule of due process is not necessarily applicable to terrorists with regard to arrest and detention. The police can arrest without a warrant persons suspected of terrorism and detain them for 72 hours. It was once possible to arrest and rearrest someone under the same question of law, resulting in a protracted detention. PACE in 1984 eliminated this practice. However, the author points out that many police arrest to seek out information despite the law. In Northern Ireland a great percentage of those that are arrested are not charged, meaning that they are brought in to gather information rather than to fulfil an arrest. Vercher teaches the reader about British intelligence gathering, referring to informers as "supergrasses." The term has an interesting origin beginning with calling informers "coppers" because of their alliance with the police. The Cockney slang of "copper" became "grasshopper," then "grass" for short. "Super" was added to suggest a large scale informer. These informers are participatory witnesses, meaning that they have been involved in criminal activity and in exchange for information, they receive some form of immunity from prosecution. Supergrass status comes with privileges. Typically they have a cell to themselves at police stations rather than prisons. They have longer visitation, recreation, and exercise periods, and are rewarded with televisions and other creature comforts. Some argue that using supergrasses is immoral and unethical, especially when the information is uncorroborated. The risk of being a supergrass runs high in Ireland, where IRA informers are killed. One of the most interesting legal variations of the British is Diplock Courts. These courts, created by a commission headed by Lord Diplock, alter the judicial process to deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland. Trial by jury is abolished and these trials only occur before a judge. One concern is that over forty percent of cases in Diplock courts do not involve terrorism. The author goes on to fully explore the advantages and disadvantages of Diplock courts. For American readers, the use of confessions is in sharp contrast to the well known Miranda rule. Miranda is not seen as effective in Northern Ireland because "robust and persistent" questioning is needed to reach the truth. Confessions are important in fighting terrorism, with 75 to 80 percent of prosecutions relying on confessions. The principle of fairness at trial concerning confessions is not applicable in pre-trial. For example, in Northern Ireland judges can draw inferences from silence as corroboration of evidence. The second half of the book is devoted to the continental legal systems of Spain, France, Italy, and Germany. In the same format as for the British legal system, Vercher lays out the equivalent legal tools of internment, exclusion orders and the like. Vercher does an excellent job of explaining the struggle of the Spanish to deal with ETA, the French with OAS, the Italians who were faced with 14,000 episodes of violence between 1969 and 1987, and the Germans with the threats by Baader-Meinhof. Vercher is careful to give the reader a sense of different principles of fairness. For example, in Spain one cannot remain in custody for longer than four years for a serious offense and two years for a minor offense awaiting trial! In Italy, punishment is reduced for terrorists who are repentant. Even legal terms have different meanings in various countries. Arrest in Spain is a form of punishment whereas detention is the equivalent to arrest in the United States. Page 53 follows: Vercher concludes that there are enough similarities between the continental and common law systems to develop a unified European response to terrorism. It is slightly difficult for the reader to see this clearly since the comparative material is by and large set apart in separate chapters rather than integrated in one discussion. When Vercher reaches this stage, he spends little time telling the reader what a unified EEC counter-terrorism proposal could do. He notes that converting an economic organization like the EEC to deal with this issue would work particularly well in extradition, creating a Community-wide penal system, and a central tribunal to try terrorists. However, Vercher concludes that "while the EEC has so far been an essential instrument for bringing democracy and peace to Europe, it seems that its members lack the necessary commitment and imaginative thinking to solve a threatening problem such as terrorism..." This is not exactly a ringing endorsement of Vercher's proposal. TERRORISM IN EUROPE is thoroughly researched. Vercher does an excellent job of explaining the similarities and differences among the five European countries; however, his link between the legal systems and a unified approach to counter-terrorism is less convincing. The book is a rich source of information. TERRORISM IN EUROPE is written in a serious manner, with few bits of lively discussion or examples. Still, it contributes to the ongoing discussion of how the state can and should respond to terrorism.

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Oxford University Press, USA
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6.50(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.34(d)

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