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Last week, we reported how Mr Hay had been sentenced to three years jail, in his absence, by an Athens court.

Now it emerges that as this was happening, the government was in the process of acceding to the EU rules demanding that every member state agree to extradite suspects like Mr Hay on the basis of minimal undertakings from the requesting country.

The rules come into force in 2011.

In short, nations demanding extradition need provide no evidence to back their case, merely a form saying the individual has been informed of a trial and been offered legal representation.

As Mr Hay pointed out when his case came to light last year, the system is attractive to requesting countries because they pay none of the costs of extradition, nor the ongoing legal costs. In other words, it is a loophole they can exploit to cut the cost of their legal system.

In June last year justice campaigners Fair Trials International (FTI) called on EU Justice Ministers to reject proposals on trials in absentia unless they achieve their aim of improving citizens’ rights.

At the time, ministers at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Luxembourg were discussing the Draft Framework Decision on trials in absentia, which aimed to set out clearer rules on notification procedures and other safeguards in relation to such trials.

In their submission on the future of the programme, made in December, FTI singled out European Arrest Warrants – the order under which Greece applied for Mr Hay’s extradition – for particular concern.

“Legislation must be amended to incorporate human rights risks as a ground for refusal to execute an EAW,” they advised.

FTI have already flagged up concerns over countries such as Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, where they fear defendants may have difficulty obtaining a fair trial.

By Ivan Macquisten