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9 Dec 2002 : Column 91—continued

7.52 pm

Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West): This has been an interesting debate. Opposition and Labour Members have ventilated some important principles and issues. However, although Conservative Front Benchers have a principled objection to part 1, one cannot help feeling that much of the heat generated by the Opposition is informed by plain anti-Europeanism or Euroscepticism. Having said that, I welcome the Bill but have reservations about its practicalities. I was impressed by the report of the Home Affairs Committee and the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin).

I agree with the Government that reform of the law of extradition is necessary and overdue. Current procedures are too slow and expensive, and ineffective in dealing with the growing phenomenon of organised crime that knows no international boundaries. The current system does a disservice to many victims. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety that, when it takes six or seven years to conclude extradition proceedings and the process can be punctuated by no fewer than seven different forms of appeal, something is clearly wrong. That surely is an illustration of the axiom that justice delayed is justice denied.

There is something of a tension as far as the objectives behind the legislation are concerned. One can accept that there is increasing co-operation between the member states of the European Union. We know that the Government have subscribed to the aim of establishing an area of freedom, security and justice. That is an extension of the single market, and that requires mutual recognition, as the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) said so eloquently and humorously. However, it is not always possible to

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achieve mutual recognition. Business in this country—particularly the professions—finds it frustrating that our European friends do not recognise our professional qualifications and often do not give the reciprocity necessary to establish a single market. However, there is a need for judicial co-operation if that single market is to be established in terms of recognising civil judgments and civil legal procedures.

In criminal justice, if we are to create a European Union in which there is freedom of movement, security and justice for all our citizens, we need to trust our European Union partners. I speak as someone who is by no means a Euro-enthusiast when I say that I recognise that there needs to be greater judicial co-operation and an extension of trust by this country when dealing with extradition requests from other EU member states.

If a Government are concerned, as this Government are, to expedite the long-winded and cumbersome extradition procedures, it is necessary for us not blithely to abandon caution but to extend a fair degree of trust to those mature democracies that we feel have a system of justice that can more or less be trusted. That is why I think that the Bill's structure, in so far as it draws a distinction between category 1 and 2 countries, is justified. We know that the so-called fast-track procedure involving the European arrest warrant will apply to category 1 countries.

The removal of protections that hitherto existed, however, is quite a draconian step. If countries can avail themselves of the fast-track procedure, there needs to be a reasonable degree of parliamentary scrutiny of which countries should be included in category 1. Although I welcome the Bill as a whole, I agree that the Home Affairs Committee recommendation on that point is particularly compelling. The Committee concluded that it was wrong for the Government to be able to add non-EU countries to category 1, thus enabling them to benefit from fast-track procedures, without there being appropriate parliamentary scrutiny. Will the Minister confirm whether the measure will leave it open for the Government, as a discretionary matter and without adequate scrutiny from the House, to add other countries to category 1?

It is important to stress that if trust between countries is to be the basis for extending a fast-track approach to category 1 offences, Parliament should have the right to test the Government's view that it is right to extend that privilege to other countries. Trust is a byword, however; if we are to have good and practical relations with our European neighbours, there must be an expedited procedure.

I have some support for the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South about dual criminality. Hon. Members will recall that he argued for the necessity of some political process to ensure that a district judge could express a view that dual criminality did not exist—in other words, that the offence that was the subject of the warrant might exist in the country where the warrant was issued but did not exist in the UK.

As I understood my hon. Friend's argument, he envisaged a situation in which a district judge could make a declaration that dual criminality did not exist. In those circumstances, the Home Secretary—accountable

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to Parliament as he is—could make a separate decision on whether extradition was appropriate. In that sense, parliamentary scrutiny would be brought to bear on the case and that would give an important safeguard.

However, there is a false element in that argument. I tend to the view that if we are serious about trusting countries admitted to category 1 status, we have to accept that they are a job lot—to put it crudely. Having accepted the principle that there should be fast-track procedures for mature democracies, which have robust judicial systems that provide safeguards for individuals and which adhere to the European convention on human rights, we cannot gainsay that and embark on a minute assessment of their criminal law systems.

One has thus to accept the logic of the Government's position—although hon. Members may be right to express some reservations about how it would work in practice. There is room for abuse. The provisions could be a blank cheque. What may be appropriate at present may not be in years to come. We cannot guarantee that laws passed by our EU partners will meet our expectations as regards conformity with human rights standards in the future.

The provisions may give rise to some tension. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's broad response to my points. If one is to take the route proposed in the measure, one cannot complicate matters by creating a situation that brings about the very mischief of delay and expense that the Bill is intended to address.

Hon. Members who suggest that there are dangers in doing away with dual criminality may be overstating the case. As I understand it, English common law never required that there should be an exact correspondence between offences in the country to which extradition was required and those that could be heard before courts in England and Wales. English common law applies to Wales and some Labour Members who represent Welsh constituencies hope that primary legislative powers for Wales will remain in this place.

Extradition treaties between sovereign countries have been in existence since the time of the nation states of Greece and Sparta, as I am reminded by the learned author Michael Forde in his recent publication on extradition law. He makes the point that extradition is an extension of diplomacy because if nations are to have good relations with each another, they need to show respect for and trust of their respective judicial systems.

Michael Forde states:

He notes that the XJay" treaty of 1794, which marked the end of hostilities between the United States and Great Britain, made provision for extradition between Holland, the United States and Great Britain.

We have moved away from the use of extradition treaties to a more logical approach. To return to what I regard as the overstatement of Opposition Members' case on dual criminality, I refer to clause 10, which deals with the initial stage of the extradition hearing. It contains an important safeguard on which the Minister might care to comment. The clause states:

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in other words, a fast-track procedure—

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that the clause imports an element of judicial discretion in interpreting the European arrest warrant. One accepts that the 32 categories of offence in the EU framework are generic and vague in certain respects, but there is a safeguard none the less. The judge is required to assess whether the warrant includes something that is an extradition offence.

There are some good points in the measure, but one can understand the reservations. We are taking our neighbours on trust and we are doing away with a legal and political tradition, but life moves on. Organised crime moves on. Society moves on. People are more mobile and we have to produce legislation that is consistent with our era. I believe that the Bill meets that requirement.

I shall refer to another point made by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Sunderland, South, and there is something very compelling in it. It relates to what I and perhaps other hon. Members would regard as the Government's gold plating of that part of the EU framework decision that deals with dual criminality. To refresh hon. Members' memories, the European arrest warrant refers to 32 offences that do not require criminality in the country that seeks extradition to correspond with that in the country to which the warrant refers.

Page 11 if the Home Affairs Committee report states:

to which copious reference has been made,

this is an additional requirement—

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