European Arrest Warrant and Surrender Procedures Between Member States

[back to previous text]

Mr. Cameron: I want to ask the Minister about the one-appeal rule, which I think will create the strange anomaly of British citizens having fewer rights in respect of appeals than non-EU nationals in, for example, a deportation case. In the Adan v. Aitseguer case, the UK was trying to deport Algerian nationals to Germany, because they were illegal immigrants. The case went all the way to the House of Lords, which ruled that because the Germans interpreted the ECHR more narrowly than the UK, those people should not be deported. The courts ruled that we have a better—if people want to say that—interpretation of the ECHR than Germany, because the case reached the House of Lords.

Under the one-appeal rule, however, any of our constituents will have only one appeal, and the judgment will not be able to be made that the interpretation of the ECHR in Greece, Spain or anywhere else in Europe is not as rigorous as in this country.

Mr. Ainsworth: Let us turn the example around. If a German commits a crime in this country, he will have all the rights of the British judicial system to appeal up to the top court in the land against the decision that was taken at his trial. We need to examine whether he should be allowed to exercise all those rights in Germany before he comes here and then exercise them again where he is here. If someone comes to this country and commits a crime, he should face justice here, and the reverse also applies. The question is not of people having fewer rights than others, but of where they exercise those rights. In the case that I have suggested, the rights would be exercised in the UK, where the crime was committed, and not in Germany, from where the person came.

Several hon. Members rose—

The Chairman: Order. The Committee has had a reasonable opportunity to explore all the issues through questions.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

    That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 13425/01,

    Draft Council Framework Decision on the European Arrest Warrant and the Surrender Procedures between the Member States; and supports the Government's active participation in the debate on the draft Framework Decision and the Government's intention to ensure that extradition within the European Union takes place on the basis of the principles of mutual recognition.—[Mr. Bob Ainsworth.]

5.49 pm

Mr. Hawkins: The Opposition disagree with the Government's stance. The Minister has received little support and faced tough questions from Labour Members. He sought to imply what the rest of us think, and he must realise that he does not have much support from any party in the Committee. Despite the

Column Number: 36

fact that one of his hon. Friends said that he was starting to be persuaded, several of them obviously share our reservations.

The reservations expressed about the EU arrest warrant proposal are by no means restricted to Conservative Members. In the other place, a range of Lords have savagely criticised the proposal and pointed out many of its flaws. It is noticeable that the debate in the other place commenced at the instigation of Lord Scott of Foscote, who was a favourite judge of the Labour party at the time of the arms to Iraq affair. It seems to have changed its view of his analysis of legal issues. Lord Scott said:

    ''I find the European arrest warrant proposal much more worrying. Its purpose is to replace the current extradition procedures between member states with a much speedier summary procedure . . . we have to remember that everyone in this country, including those regarded as fugitives from justice in other states, are entitled to the protection of our laws while they are in this country and entitled to be protected by reference to the standards that we believe are appropriate. In principle, we should not send people to be tried abroad unless we can be satisfied that they will receive a fair trial and unless there is a proper case for them to answer in the foreign country that seeks to try them.

    Our present extradition procedures have three important built-in safeguards. One is the so-called double criminality rule. We do not extradite people to face trial on charges that we do not recognise as offences. We would not extradite someone to face charges of homosexuality that would not be criminal in this country or to face blasphemy charges. Many examples can be found.

    Secondly, there is requirement that before a person is to be extradited, it must be shown that there is a proper case for him to answer. That is colloquially called the sufficiency test—there must be a sufficient case. We would not extradite if, by our standards, there was no proper case to be answered.

    Thirdly, extradition under current procedures is, in the last resort, subject to a political decision to be taken by the responsible Minister—the Home Secretary—as to whether the individual should be sent to the country that has requested him for trial. That, too, constitutes a safeguard. I do not believe that the Minister would give his consent to the extradition of someone to a country which did not guarantee by our standards that this person would receive a fair trial.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 19 November 2001; Vol. 628, c. 949.]

The three safeguards summarised by Lord Scott encapsulate our concerns. Many other legal commentators and Lords also echoed those concerns, as did the distinguished legal editor of The Daily Telegraph, Joshua Rozenberg, formerly of the BBC. In the light of the current publicity about the British plane-spotters who are under detention in Greece, it is outrageous for Her Majesty's Government to be signing up to the proposal. They should be the first to veto it; they should not wait for the Italian Government to veto it and then try to find a way round the veto. A British Government should be concerned first and foremost and always with the risk to innocent British citizens. Instead, the Government are prepared to sacrifice them so that the process will be faster and more efficient.

That is precisely what is wrong with the Government's attitude. They do not believe in safeguards or the importance of the traditions of English law, built up over centuries by our forebears. They are concerned with modernisation, speed and efficiency. I remind the Minister that it is far better that the extradition procedures are delayed for 100 people

Column Number: 37

who may be considered guilty in other countries than that one entirely innocent British citizen should be wrongly sent abroad at the instigation of a corrupt judicial authority abroad. Unfortunately, there are corrupt and politically motivated judicial authorities in our EU partner countries. We have given some examples of them.

Dr. Palmer: Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the long-standing principle that a British subject who is accused of a crime while visiting another country can lawfully be tried there? Is he drawing a distinction between what happens if the British subject is still in the other country and what happens if he has crossed the border and is back in Britain? Is the hon. Gentleman saying that in one case it is perfectly all right for him to be tried but in the other we should be prepared to impose a delay of, perhaps, years?

Mr. Hawkins: No, I am not saying that. Surely, the hon. Gentleman understands that we as Members of Parliament have a duty to protect our constituents.

Perhaps it has never happened to any of his constituents, but constituents of mine faced improperly motivated judicial proceedings in another country. I took up the case of a professional footballer several years ago who played for a team in my constituency. It was thought that he had been arrested by police officers in another EU country—one of those countries that would be operating the EU arrest warrant if it is agreed to—simply because of the colour of his skin. He was kept in detention for a considerable period of time. Again, it was thought that the judicial authorities shared the colour prejudice of the police officers who arrested him. He was entirely innocent, and we managed to get all the charges dropped with the help of the then Foreign and Home Secretaries.

It is our duty to ensure that entirely innocent British citizens are protected, whether they are abroad or at home. The debate in another place made it clear that trumped-up charges with a possible penalty of 12 months' imprisonment or more could be proceeded with, a warrant could be issued and a British police officer could turn up on the doorstep of one of our constituents and take them into custody. They could be shipped off to face detention abroad, perhaps for months or years, on the basis of completely inappropriate charges. Parliament should not allow that.

Several Lords in another place expressed serious concerns about the way in which investigations are carried out in other countries. Lord Scott of Foscote said:

    ''the investigative process in a number of European countries is carried out under the aegis of a judicial officer, the investigating magistrate, the juge d'instruction. That is not a procedure we have in this country. It is not at all clear at what stage in his investigation the investigating magistrate will be able to issue an arrest warrant to bring before him from this country or any other member state an individual where he is not yet satisfied there should be a trial but requires more information from the individual in question.''

The position is worrying indeed.

Column Number: 38

Similar points were made by my noble Friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden, by the distinguished lawyer Lord Lester of Herne Hill, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, who made some additional points about his concern that the ECHR is not a sufficient safeguard when faced with the EU arrest warrant, and particularly by my noble Friend Lord Lamont of Lerwick. Lord Lamont said:

    ''The seriousness of the situation potentially was illustrated in a remark in a recent newspaper article written by the director of Liberty''--

John Wadham, who said--

    '''What . . . [this warrant] could mean in practice is that a British Police Officer will arrive at your door with, for instance, an Italian Police Officer in tow to arrest you. They will take you via an impotent British Court to Italy where you will be dumped in a prison to await trial, perhaps for something somebody thinks you did when on holiday.'''

Lord Lamont continued:

    ''That is possibly a slight exaggeration, although I have a close friend who, on an Italian beach, spotted a young boy trying to pinch his wallet. He gave hot pursuit to the child and found himself arrested by an Italian policeman for threatening a child. It took several years and a lot of money before he managed to get himself out of that situation. Of course, it will be pointed out that such situations may arise under any legal system, and I accept that. However, that makes one pause before removing the requirement of prima facie evidence or consideration of the likelihood of a fair trial before extradition.''

Those concerns are not trivial. They were expressed by one of our most important independent human rights organisations, Liberty, which many Labour Members support. Lord Lamont went on to quote another Labour lawyer, Mr. John Mortimer QC,

    ''a pillar of the Labour establishment--who, commenting on attempts to harmonise legal provision in Europe, wrote an article in the Daily Mail last year. He said:

    'There is a real danger that our precious rights and liberties may be lost in a vague and haphazard attempt to impose a single system of law on Europe . . . Would you care to be arrested on the say-so of a Greek or Spanish judge and be packed off, with no case having been made against you, to face a trial under a foreign system in another country?'

He continued:

    'You can be kept for a long time in a Spanish or Italian prison in the hope that suspense may force a confession, or that some sort of evidence might turn up.'''--—[Official Report, House of Lords, 19 November 2001; Vol. 828, c. 952-63.]

That is what is happening now, and that is why we think that it would be inappropriate to remove all the safeguards, particularly with the vague list of offences in article 2(2), such as swindling or xenophobia. They are far too vague to be specific offences under English law. As was pointed out in our previous, aborted sitting, that is simply not good enough.

Other Lords spoke in the debate and expressed their concerns, including Baroness Park of Monmouth, Baroness Stern, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who has already been referred to, Lord Goodhart for the Liberal Democrats and Lord Kingsland, the shadow Lord Chancellor. None of their concerns was addressed satisfactorily by Lord Rooker when he concluded the debate for the Government, nor have those concerns been addressed by the Minister today. The Minister is elevating his

Column Number: 39

desire to push ahead into a virtue. He is committing the Government to try to find a way round the Italian veto.

Conservative Members believe that the Government should have ruled out the European arrest warrant. It is absolutely unacceptable and we shall continue to fight tooth and nail against it. It has nothing to do with necessary anti-terrorism provisions; its consequences are entirely unacceptable. We hope that even at this 11th hour, the Government will listen to some of their own Back Benchers, to what we have said and what so many Lords in another place have said, see sense and realise that if they sign up to the proposal they will sacrifice one of the most important safeguards of our judicial system.

5.45 pm

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 10 December 2001