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9 Dec 2002 : Column 43continued
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): My right hon. Friend referred to the European Union. Will he confirm that if the EU is enlarged during the next few years, the proposed legislation will mean that we can take much more effective action to deal with the criminality that exists throughout the European continent? It will then be far more effective in tracking down the origins of the people smugglers and the drug smugglers who use central and eastern Europe as a conduit to this country.
An important part of the accession agreement is that states must be able to fulfil their full obligations under the framework decision and the European arrest warrant. The ability to have common approaches throughout the EU after enlargement will, I think, be of significant assistance to us in fighting international and organised crime.
I shall continue to go through the issues that have been raised as potential objections to the Bill. It has been said, for example, that people will be sent off to stand trial in another country without due process in this country. I can reassure the House. Anyone who is the subject of a European arrest warrant will be entitled to an extradition hearing before a British judge. They will then have the right of appeal to the High Court and, if significant points of law are raised, to the House of Lords.
There is an issue about prima facie evidence that comes up in part 2, which I shall address briefly. However, as for EU countries, I think that there is no new issue of principle in the proposed legislation.
It has been suggested that a newspaper editor could be extradited for publishing an anti-German editorial. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will not be surprised to learn that these stories are wildly inaccurate. No one will be extradited for conduct in this country that is not illegal in this country. I shall say more about dual criminality in a moment.
There have been complaints that we are removing the requirement for evidence in the case against fugitives to be produced. As I have said, all the Council of Europe countries have not had to provide prima facie evidence with their extradition requests since the United Kingdom signed up to the European convention on extradition in 1991. I assume that the Opposition found that an acceptable principle thenI assume that they still do today. It has been suggested that we would be obliged to extradite in cases where the presumption of innocence is not applied. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed out to the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) in the debate on the Gracious Speech, the presumption is a guaranteed right under the European convention on human rights, to which all European Union states have signed up. In the case of convictions in absentia, the Bill it makes it clear that we will extradite only if the fugitive is guaranteed a retrial. A retrial is differentiated from a simple appeal by the fact that the process starts again from scratch with a presumption of innocence.
Having spent rather longer than I intended on what the European arrest warrant is not about, I shall say what it is about, and describe its benefits. It will speed up extradition with EU partners. In future, cases within the EU should take about three months, as opposed to nine to 12 months at present. The current timetable for bringing serious criminals to justice does a great disservice to the victims of crime. It works both ways
Some of our European partners refuse to extradite their own nationals, even if they have committed the most heinous crimes in Britain. The European arrest warrant will mean that those countries will no longer be able to prohibit extradition of their own nationals, denying us the right to try those who have committed serious crimes here.
Some of our European partners have traditionally been unwilling to extradite people who have committed purely fiscal offences. The UK has never held the view that fiscal offences are minor crimes, but others take the contrary view. UK criminals have not been slow to exploit that loophole, with the result that people accused of major tax evasion and VAT fraud have been able to escape justice. The European arrest warrant means that serious criminals accused of fiscal offences will no longer be able to hide within the EU.
Some of our European partners are unwilling to extradite for crimes where they have a statute of limitations, even though we do not. The case of Mr. Y, a British national, illustrates the problem. He was accused of the serious sexual abuse of two children in Britaina crime that by its nature only comes to light many years after the event. His extradition from Denmark was sought, but refused because Denmark's statute of limitations had expired. However, Mr. Y could legitimately have been put on trial in this country. In future, people in his position will be extradited.
The European arrest warrant will have all those clear benefits for the United Kingdom and our criminal justice system, but there will also be strong safeguards for fugitivesan extradition hearing before a district judge, the right of appeal to the High Court and, if important points of law are raised, to the House of Lords. Extradition can be barred because of double jeopardy, and will not be possible if the fugitive's mental or physical condition makes it unjust to extradite him; if there is reason to believe the prosecution is politically motivated; if the fugitive's trial is likely to be prejudiced by extraneous factors; or if the fugitive's rights under the European convention on human rights would be breached. All the states that we are talking about are mature democracies and ECHR signatories, so it is highly unlikely that some of those bars will ever arise.
Mr. Hogg: I have almost lost my voice, so I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can hear me. On the ECHR point, will it involve the district judge assessing the quality of the trial that the defendant will receive in the country to which he is to be extradited?
Derek Conway: The Minister brings to the House his usual temperate delivery, for which we are grateful. However, there is a concern. If 32 categories of offence are exempted from the dual criminality requirement, what does the Minister say about Lord Scott's observation that the definition of a xenophobia offence in the schedule