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9 Dec 2002 : Column 60—continued

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): The House owes a great deal of gratitude to the hon. Gentleman's Committee for its work on this matter. Is he satisfied that the 32 categories are sufficiently accurately described and defined outside or in the Bill? It seems to me that some are extremely vague: for instance, the category of sabotage, which could mean a lot or very little, depending on which country was involved.

Mr. Mullin: That is precisely the point to which I was coming, although I recognise some of the problems to which the Minister referred in his opening remarks.

It is true, as we have seen, that not all the 32 offences are recognised under British law. Apart from xenophobia, which has been mentioned, those offences

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include computer-related crime, environmental crime, swindling and sabotage. Under the Bill, it will therefore be obligatory for suspects to be extradited for alleged offences that British law does not recognise, and British courts will have no power to intervene. The judge who examines the warrant will be a mere cipher, which is not satisfactory.

One solution might have been to amend the list of offences for which extradition is automatic, but that is impossible as Ministers have already signed up to the EU framework document, which is now immutable. The next best solution, which is the one that my Committee commends to the House, is for the Bill to be amended to allow a district judge to examine the warrant and state whether, in his opinion, dual criminality applies. In cases in which an alleged offence is not an offence in the UK, the Home Secretary should be given the discretion as to whether to extradite. That would circumvent the problem of the offences that are not recognised in this country but are on the list of 32.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Did the hon. Gentleman's Committee reflect on the very unsatisfactory procedure in this area, whereby Members of Parliament can be asked for their views on such proposals, but their views count for nothing? Ministers can take decisions at a European level that are binding on the United Kingdom, without the assent of the UK Parliament, or of either House, having been secured beforehand.

Mr. Mullin: Indeed, we were not entirely happy with that. There has been a degree of parliamentary assent to this matter, but not the degree that most of us would like.

Gareth Thomas: On the point about giving the Home Secretary discretion when the district judge has signified that there is a dual criminality issue, did my hon. Friend's Committee seek specialist or legal advice as to whether that was possible, and whether it would be consistent with the EU framework to which the Government have subscribed?

Mr. Mullin: We did have specialist advice, but of course there are specialists and specialists. No doubt the Home Secretary had a few specialists at his disposal, and perhaps he will tell us if there is a reason why that discretion cannot be given. I am not aware, however, of any such reason. As I said, that would surmount one problem.

With regard to the seriousness of the offences to which fast-track extradition may apply, the EU framework document applies only to those offences for which a maximum sentence of three years is available. Ministers have gone much further than the EU requires. They have lowered the threshold to 12 months, which will greatly increase the number of offences for which extradition applies, not all of which, as we have seen, are recognised in this country.

Mr. Denham: Does my hon. Friend recognise that, at the moment under extradition law the threshold in this country is 12 months, so the debate is about whether it

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should be raised from 12 months to three years to fit in with the framework decision or whether it should be left at its current level?

Mr. Mullin: At the moment there are certain safeguards which it is now proposed we do away with. It is still a live issue, and we recommended that the three-year limit specified in the framework document should be retained, although that is a matter for debate. We may be able to improve the safeguards and thereby resolve that issue.

I wish to make one general point in passing. I realise that it is argued that no law-abiding citizen has anything to fear from the judicial systems of our EU partners and that the quality of justice elsewhere in the EU is at least as good as that available here. Generally speaking, I am sure that that is true, although I would point out that a suspect in, say, Italy could find himself on remand for several years before he has his day in court. What is more, I notice that under our existing system the courts have often refused extradition to EU countries, and so, occasionally, has the Home Secretary. What has suddenly changed that has enabled us to throw all caution and existing safeguards to the winds as regards extradition to category 1 countries?

There are other problems with category 1 extraditions. As it stands, the Bill allows the list of 32 offences to be incorporated into UK domestic law without any opportunity for Parliament to disagree with, let alone debate, the proposed changes. The Select Committee believes that that is unacceptable. Furthermore, despite Ministerial assurances to the contrary, it appears that clause 2(5) will deny our judges the opportunity to refuse an application on the ground that it does not come from a properly constituted judicial authority of a category 1 state.

The Bill is also silent as to what information should appear on a warrant. In addition, the Government have signalled their intention to abandon the so-called speciality rule, which has not yet been referred to in the debate and which makes clear the principle that a suspect can be tried only for the charge for which he is being extradited unless the extraditing authority consents to its being varied or added to. In the Select Committee's view, all those points need to be addressed, and we have made recommendations for doing so.

With regard to category 2 states, non-European countries are currently required to show that there is a prima facie case to answer before the UK will agree to extradition. Clause 83(6) will enable the Government to exempt any category 2 country from that requirement. We think that the recommendation is too broad and that it should be limited either to non-EU member states that are signatories to the convention on extradition or to any other state with which we have a bilateral agreement that imposes obligations similar to those set out in the convention.

On extradition to countries that have the death penalty, we recommend that, in line with existing practice, the Secretary of State, rather than a district judge, should be required to assess the adequacy of a written assurance that the death penalty will not be imposed or carried out. We urge Ministers to explain how such written assurances will be assessed.

Finally, we recommend that the powers of arrest contained in the Bill be tightened. It should specify the appropriate persons entitled to make arrests, although I

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heard what the Minister said about the precedents on that point. If we mean—in addition to the police—Customs and Excise officers, let us say so. Arresting officers should be required to show the warrant to an arrested person, and judges should also be required to inform an arrested person of the contents of the warrant and to ensure that a person has access to proper legal advice before they can consent to extradition.As I said in an intervention, I was a little disappointed with the tone of the press release that was issued in response to our report by the Home Office, under the name of the Under-Secretary my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth). In it, he said:

Well, we agree about that. No one—certainly not the Home Affairs Committee—has suggested that we do nothing. He added:

We agree about that, too. Nothing in our report should stand in the way of streamlining our outdated procedures. It is, however, our view that the Bill would benefit from further revision.

5.54 pm

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): Liberal Democrat Members wish the Home Secretary a speedy recovery. I should also declare that I am a lawyer, but I do not practise.

I record my gratitude to the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and to the Home Affairs Committee, which he chairs, for its report on the Bill, which makes compelling reading and is extremely useful. It is a tribute to his Committee that it managed to compile it in such a relatively short time.

Most hon. Members acknowledge that certain crimes, particularly terrorism and serious international crimes, have to be dealt with as speedily as possible. Furthermore, we all understand that, as the Minister said, extradition works both ways. Not only are we called upon to extradite individuals, but there are occasions when we seek extradition to our jurisdiction.

The changes that the Bill proposes will make extradition, particularly between category 1 territories, swifter and less bureaucratic. My problem with the Bill is that it does so by jettisoning some established protections for individuals and watering down many other safeguards. I shall come to that point.

The Home Affairs Committee set out a raft of detailed objections to the Bill, and I wish to dwell on some of the principled objections. I apologise to the House if I repeat some of the points that the hon. Member for Sunderland, South made. There will be scope in Committee to endeavour to improve what is an ill-thought-out measure.

Currently, the law provides some crucial protections. First and foremost, there is a requirement for dual criminality, and that point has already been explained several times in the debate. The offence for which extradition is requested should not be of a political character. Existing law tells us that extradition is not allowed if its purpose is to secure the prosecution of a fugitive on account of his or her race, faith, nationality

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or political opinions or if he or she might be denied a fair trial for those reasons. The fugitive will not be extradited if he or she has been previously acquitted or convicted of the same offence for which his or her extradition is sought. That is the current state of play. Most important, we will not extradite for an offence that carries the death penalty in the requesting state, although undertakings that the death sentence will not be carried out can be given.

Furthermore, after a fair appeal process, there is the rule of speciality that the hon. Member for Sunderland, South mentioned. It provides that the fugitive cannot be charged with any conduct for which he was not extradited. This is, for obvious reasons, an extremely important rule that prevents extraditions for trivial or other offences that are subsequently dropped and for which a prosecution in the extraditing country of a more questionable offence is substituted.

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