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Column 643The court took account also of Soering's personal circumstances--his age and mental state at the time of the offence and so on. In the light of this, it concluded that there would be a real risk of exposing him to treatment going beyond the threshold set by article 3. A further consideration was that in this particular instance the legitimate purpose of extradition could be achieved by another means which would not involve suffering of such intensity and duration--his return to Germany for trial.
Since receipt of the judgment earlier this month, the Government have been seriously considering its implications and the courses of action that are now open to us. While that process is continuing, I hope that my hon. Friend will appreciate why I cannot predict what the outcome of this case will be.
I want to respond, however, to the specific points raised by my hon. Friend. He suggested in particular that the United Kingdom should simply ignore the views of the European Court of Human Rights--tell it to "jump in the lake" was his graphic phrase. But we are talking of international obligations binding upon the United Kingdom. Each of the parties to the European convention of human rights has undertaken to abide by the decision of the court in any case to which they are parties. The House will recall that this country took a leading role in the evolution of the convention, and successive Governments have been scrupulous in complying with the judgments of the court.
My hon. Friend also referred implicity to a recent case in which the United Kingdom felt obliged to derogate from the convention, following a judgment of the court. I want to point out why derogation was correct in that case and would not be correct in the case that my hon. Friend has raised. The circumstances were very different. That case concerned detention in Northern Ireland under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974. In that case, we derogated from our obligations under article 5 of the convention. Derogation in respect of particular articles of the convention is expressly provided for in article 15, which states :
"in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation."
We believe that there is an emergency in the Northern Ireland case. That is not the position in the case we are discussing tonight. I must also point out to my hon. Friend that no derogation is permitted from certain articles of the convention, including article 3 on inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Under the convention, we cannot derogate in the same way as we are able to derogate in the case to which my hon. Friend referred.
Having made those points and answered those questions, I want to underline certain key issues raised by the case. The first is the importance that the United Kingdom attaches to its extradition agreements. They are a major factor in our responses to serious crime and we are committed to the principle of co-operation between jurisdictions. We welcome the strong and close co-operation that we have with the United States, to which my hon. Friend referred so warmly and which will be greatly appreciated by the United States Goverment who,
Column 644I am sure, will pay attention to our proceedings tonight. A key objective throughout our handling of these issues has been to maintain the integrity and effectiveness of our extradition arrangements with the other countries concerned. That is clearly in our best interests.
Secondly, I want to stress that the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights centred on the fact that Soering was at risk of experiencing the "Death row phenomenon" if he were to be extradited to the United States in the present circumstances. That is to say, it is extradition while the threat of a death sentence remains that led the court to declare a breach of the convention. I ask my hon. Friend to reflect on what I am about to say. It follows from that that if the threat of a death sentence were to be removed, no question of a breach of the convention would arise from extradition to the United States.
Thirdly, I can tell my hon. Friend and the House tonight that Her Majesty's Government remain committed to ensuring that Soering should stand trial for the offences that have been alleged against him. If the threat of a death sentence in the United States cannot be removed, there remains the clear option of returning Soering to stand trial in Germany--rather than maintaining his freedom in the United Kingdom--in the way in which my hon. Friend thought might have been possible under certain circumstances.
I assure my hon. Friend, whom I hold in great respect because of his strong and passionate interest in law and order and the constitutional integrity of the kingdom, that we have not been idle since receiving the Strasbourg judgment three weeks ago and we have not ignored the importance of this case to our relationship with the United States and the Federal Republic, and to the integrity and good working of our extradition arrangements with those two countries. We have been in discussions with the American and German Governments since the judgment, although the House will appreciate why it would not be appropriate for me to go into details of those exchanges tonight.
I hope that what I have said will convince my hon. Friend that we are treating this case as one of the utmost seriousness. We are faced with allegations of very serious offences and our objective has been to honour our international obligations and to ensure that the case comes to trial.
Mr. Teddy Taylor : With the leave of the House. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for the serious reply that he has given to my questions. I am delighted to hear that it is his intention that Soering should face trial. In view of the importance of the relations between Britain and the United States, I ask him to send a copy of the Hansard that includes his excellent speech to the governor of Virginia, or some other similar person, with his fraternal good wishes and the respect of Parliament.
Mr. Patten : With the leave of the House. I shall certainly ensure that as soon as they are available, copies of Hansard are sent, through the usual channels, in the direction that my hon. Friend has suggested.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at eleven minutes to Twelve o'clock.
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