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9 Dec 2002 : Column 56—continued

Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Letwin: In a moment. Arguments can be made for either system, but they are different. We know that paragraph 2 of article 6 is applied in countries with inquisitorial systems, and that they are held by Strasbourg to be in conformity with that clause, so the Minister cannot claim that, in the sense in which we in this country mean it, the presumption of innocence and the need to prove beyond reasonable doubt is maintained through the ECHR: it is not, as a plain matter of fact.

Mr. Denham: Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could help the House on two points. First, does he recognise that the Bill explicitly says that extradition can be only for the purpose of trial, not for investigation? Secondly, given that, under previous Conservative Governments and under this Government, we extradited many people to countries whose inquisitorial systems he does not like, does he believe that all those extraditions were in breach of human rights?

Mr. Letwin: No, because those cases—as would be the case if part 2 applied, as it should—are open to challenge. The whole point of part 1 is to undercut the

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opportunity for challenge. That is the sole purported advantage of the European arrest warrant in part 1. It is a very grave difference.

Gareth Thomas: Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that the adversarial system is not only different but somehow inherently superior? Many people would question that assumption.

Mr. Letwin: I suppose that I shall be accused of being old-fashioned and perhaps even xenophobic, but as a matter of fact I do think that it is superior. Whether it is superior or not, it is clear that part 1 will make it very much easier for people to be removed to places where the adversarial system does not apply and the presumption of innocence in that sense is not applied.

I said at the beginning of my speech that apart from not meaning what the Minister wants it to mean and containing things that are intrinsically offensive, the third problem with part 1 is that we do not need it because part 2 works perfectly well. I want to use the example of the United States of America, but let me point out that no observation in retort to what I say based on the death penalty operating in the United States will be of the slightest interest, because in both parts the Human Rights Act applies. Rightly or wrongly, therefore, no one would be extradited to the United States under part 1 or part 2 to face the death penalty.

Apart from the death penalty, I do not see the slightest reason to suppose that judicial operations in the United States are less meritorious than those in the European Union. As a matter of fact, its system of justice is more, rather than less, aligned to ours than those of most of our continental partners. Its record in administering justice is, like that of all civilised countries, imperfect, but it has a recognisable system of justice that, by and large, delivers justice. There is no doubt that it is a major extradition partner. On page 8 of its very useful analysis, the Home Affairs Committee reveals that the United States of America accounted for 23 of the 139 extraditions that occurred in the three years between 1999 and 2001. It is therefore the second largest partner in extradition. Germany is the only country to which a larger number of people were extradited in those years.

Part 2 of the Bill, not part 1, will apply to the United States. I cannot for the life of me understand why we are taking measures of this kind to assist extradition to other EU countries if we do not regard it as necessary to do that in relation to the United States and if we regard part 2 as a sufficient and, to the Government's credit, considerable improvement in the current arrangements for extradition. Why do the Government not have as much confidence in part 2 as I do?

I said that there was a fourth point and there is—it is the answer to my semi-rhetorical question. There is a reason why the Government do not have confidence in part 2 and why they are using part 1, notwithstanding the severe reservations of the Home Affairs Committee. The reason is that part 1 is being used as an aspect of the development of a new relationship between the EU and its member states in relation to justice and home affairs. I may part company with some of my right hon. and hon. Friends here, but I think that a rational argument

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could be made in favour of that transformation. I do not happen to share that view; I do not believe that it would be an advance for mankind, but I admit that there could be such a rational argument.

There can be no excuse, however, for the effort to enact part 1 without admitting the reason for doing so. An open acknowledgement that, in respect of our EU counterparts, part 1 is to be preferred to part 2, because at the time and in the context of 11 September the Home Secretary and his fellow Justice Ministers were led by those with a different agenda to adopt a system specifically designed to enlarge the area of EU competence at the expense of the member states, would be an argument worth entertaining. However, the idea that Members of the House should settle down and accept part 1, with its gross deficiencies of drafting allied to its gross deficiencies of principle and its lack of proportionality, in the presence of a perfectly suitable alternative in part 2, merely because the Government want—but do not want to admit that they want—to abet an evolution of the EU with which, I suspect, most of the people of this country are not in accord, beggars belief.

Mr. Hogg: May I reinforce my right hon. Friend's point? Is it not extraordinary that the part 1 procedure would apply to Greece yet the part 2 procedure would apply to Australia? Surely most people in this country would think that if the Government had such absolute confidence as to use the part 1 procedure, they would use it in respect of the courts of Australia and not in respect of the courts of Greece.

Mr. Letwin: Yes, I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. Incidentally, the House should be aware that he and I have not always been on the same side in every argument about the evolution of the EU.

The measure offers a set of steps that are unacknowledged but dangerous. They are unacknowledged because the Government do not want to enter the debate that would be caused if they acknowledged what they were up to. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends in this place and my noble Friends and others in another place will prevent part 1, as drafted, from coming into effect.

Mr. Garnier: A moment ago, I pointed out to the Minister that he faced a problem with the match between this Bill and the Criminal Justice Bill. The Criminal Justice Bill attacks the jury system in a most pro-European way and the Government persist in attacking the lay magistracy. Continental Europe has neither the jury system nor a lay magistracy. There is thus a double marriage between the two measures. My right hon. Friend is rightly and carefully pointing that out.

Mr. Letwin: I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. Furthermore, the Government have presented the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill as a tiny amendment that would for the first time allow foreign policemen—whom the Minister tells us he means not to authorise, but who will be authorised under the Extradition Bill—to enter the country to pursue a villain across our borders.

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In short, we find ourselves surrounded by a set of minor incursions that are centripetal in their intent. There is a move towards the homogenisation of systems of justice in the EU—[Interruption.] The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety suggests that I do not believe what I am saying. I do not think that I have ever in my life said anything that I believe more strongly. If he is sufficiently naive as not to believe it—if he is a fellow traveller rather than a willing enthusiast—he will be sorely disillusioned as the measure progresses.

I shall not detain the House further. We cannot and will not put up with part 1 and we hope to see it erased—except in relation to the extreme case of terrorism.

5.39 pm

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): I shall speak mainly to the Select Committee's report, to which several Members have already referred.

I thank Ministers for publishing the draft version of the Bill long enough in advance for interested parties to comment on it and for my Committee to examine it. As the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety, my right hon. Friend has pointed out, one or two changes have been made as a result of representations received. I am pleased to note that and I hope that there will be more in due course.

At the outset may I say that I entirely accept that there is a need to overhaul our procedures, given some of the lengthy fiascos that have surrounded extradition cases in the past? However, in the Select Committee's view the Bill goes too far in dispensing with the protections that are rightly available to protect our citizens from injustice at the hands of foreign legal systems. To some extent, of course, it is a fait accompli because Ministers have already signed up to the framework document, committing the Government to introducing far-reaching reforms, but the Government appear to be going further and faster than the framework document requires, and we do not believe that that is justified.

As we have heard, the Bill will create two categories of country. For category 1 countries, there will be fast-track procedure, dispensing with just about all the existing safeguards, including dual criminality and the discretion of the Home Secretary. Instead, a judge has merely to satisfy himself that the warrant is in order and that the alleged offence comes within the 32 categories listed in article 2.2 of the framework document. For category 2 countries, the procedure will be more rigorous, but still a great deal simpler and with fewer safeguards than at present.

Category 1 will initially consist of all existing EU members which have signed up to the framework document. Category 2 is likely consist of all non-EU members of the Council of Europe, including countries such as Albania, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Georgia and Russia, whose legal systems, as they would be the first to admit, leave a certain amount to be desired. Indeed, I was visited the other day by a man in President Putin's office who told me that the Russian judicial system results in a conviction rate of 99.6 per cent. One possibility—in fairness to him, he did not seek to argue this—is that he presides over a nearly perfect system, but

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we need to contemplate another possibility. In addition, we are told that some Commonwealth countries will be included, as well as other countries with which we have bilateral treaties.

Clauses 1 and 68 will allow the Government to designate by Order in Council which countries fall into which category. Clause 205 provides that such orders will be subject only to a negative resolution, so parliamentary scrutiny will be minimal. That brings me to the Select Committee's first concern. In effect, Ministers could add any country to category 1 or 2 without having to explain their reasons to Parliament. Although they say that they have no plans to do so, it does not need a great deal of foresight to foresee the day when they will wish to add the United States to the list of category 1 countries, to which people can be extradited with the minimum of formality. I wish to say plainly that that would not be acceptable.

I part company with the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) on the judicial system in the United States. In my view and, I think, that of the Select Committee, there is a world of difference between the judicial systems of western Europe and those in the United States, where there is a huge variation in the quality of justice available, depending on whether people are in the east, west, north or south. I do not agree that the death penalty is irrelevant to this debate. To take but one example, I can think of nowhere else in the developed world where politicians compete for office on the basis of the number of death warrants they have signed.

In the unanimous view of the Select Committee, clause 1 should be amended to specify that only countries that are signatories to the European framework document should be included in category 1. In any event, the Select Committee was of the view that no country that maintains the death penalty should be allowed into category 1. Clause 68 should be amended to specify that only countries with which the United Kingdom has bilateral treaty arrangements may be included in category 2. At the very least, clause 205 should be amended to provide that Orders in Council designating new members of either category must be approved by an affirmative resolution of each House.

Turning to category 1, almost all existing safeguards will be dispensed with for countries in that category. Instead, as I said, it will merely be necessary for a judge to satisfy himself that the alleged offence is among the 32 listed in article 2.2 of the framework document, and that it carries a maximum sentence of 12 months or more.

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