Extradition Bill

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The Chairman: Before we proceed, I should point out that I was listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, whom I know from experience to be a decent and reasonable Committee member. He was honest enough to point out that he was alluding to later clauses at some points. I was very tolerant, but there was more detailed discussion than was appropriate of matters that will be subject to debate under later groups of amendments and clauses. I make the general observation, not only to the hon. Gentleman, but to the Committee as a whole, that although Members may allude appropriately to matters of later debate, they should not go into excessive detail.

Mr. Burnett: I should declare at the outset that I am a lawyer, but I do not practice as such. That statement is not necessarily designed to endear oneself to any particular audience. I am delighted to be joined in our endeavours by my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland. He is also a member of my profession, although he is a Scottish lawyer. As he will demonstrate in the course of our proceedings, he is a wise and able advocate.

I will speak particularly about amendment No. 116, but it might be wise for me to say a few words about the Conservative amendments, which have been described in considerable detail by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. As a party, the Liberal Democrats believe in co-operation between states and swifter appropriate extradition, but not at the cost of jettisoning civil liberties. That said, I agree with amendment No. 1 insofar as it refers to the affirmative resolution of both Houses.

I shall not dwell too extensively on quoting from the admirable Home Affairs Committee report, although the Committee and its chairman should be applauded for the swift way in which they produced the report in time for the Bill's Second Reading. Paragraph 43 refers to the importance of an affirmative resolution before any territory is defined as a category 1 territory. Our stance differs from that of the Conservative party, because subject to appropriate safeguards, which we will debate, we believe that extradition to category 1 territories should take place for offences other than terrorism. It would make a mockery of what I said at the outset to say otherwise.

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That said, clause 1 is unacceptable because it gives far too wide a discretion to the Secretary of State to designate territories as category 1 territories by Order in Council with little or no accountability. There must be clear, open and transparent criteria for the allocation of states between categories 1 and 2. Part 1 of the Bill provides for a particularly expeditious extradition procedure, albeit with inadequate safeguards, which we hope to remedy.

Part 1 also implements the European arrest warrant, but the procedure requires only cursory or superficial information about the allegation or evidence. We are relying completely on the fairness and openness of the justice systems prevailing in the category 1 countries, but some members of the Committee might be surprised to learn of the shortcomings that exist even in other European Union jurisdictions. I shall not trespass on other clauses at this stage, but I alert the Committee to the fact that we will introduce other amendments to try to make the Bill fair and to make it reflect the standards of justice that we are used to in this country.

Even in some EU jurisdictions, there is little or no legal aid. Defendants can be discouraged from contacting lawyers. There is a regular denial of consular assistance and no presumption of innocence until proved guilty. Often, no information about detention is given to family or next of kin. Another serious matter is the lack of interpreters. We must therefore be careful about the way in which we approach the clause and the rest of the Bill. We must ensure, in so far as we can, that we import into the Bill the type of safeguards and protections to which we, quite rightly, are accustomed.

Regrettably, basic principles and frameworks of justice are absent in other jurisdictions, including other EU jurisdictions. However, amendment No. 116 would provide minimum safeguards in respect of which countries could fall into the definition of a category 1 territory. I remind the Committee that that is a territory in which there are swift and superficial safeguards in respect of the individual whose extradition is sought.

I do not want to go over the ground covered by the Home Affairs Committee. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath covered it in detail and was right to draw particular attention to paragraphs 41, 42 and 43 of its report, which I hope hon. Members have read. I simply remind them that paragraph 41 is absolutely clear. In bold type, it recommends that

    ''Clause 1(1) be amended to specify that only those countries that are signatories to the framework decision may be designated territories for the purposes of Part 1 of the Bill, and that Clause 68(1) be amended to specify that only those countries with which the UK has general extradition arrangements may be designated territories for the purposes of Part 2 of the Bill.''

We shall return to the latter part of the sentence in due course. We do not believe that any country should be able to be included in category 1 just by ministerial fiat. These territories must meet basic standards, which is what our amendment is intended to do.

5.30 pm

Mr. Ainsworth: I not only feel that I am replaying the Proceeds of Crime Bill, I have a definite sense of

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déjà vu. I listened extensively to arguments that ranged across the whole of the Bill, but heard very little about the amendments. In fairness to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, he spoke with considerable passion about the need for an affirmative rather than a negative resolution. He hardly touched at all on any justification for his contention that the amendments should apply only to terrorism. It just is not good enough simply to say ''draconian''—no matter how many times—without attempting to prove to the Committee that the proposals are draconian. Having done that repeatedly, the hon. Gentleman trotted out the same old threats that if we cannot sort the matter out here, the noble Lords will certainly do so.

I am sure that you would lose patience with me, Mr. O'Hara if I ranged over all the issues raised by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, many of which will be picked up in clauses that we will come to shortly. I will address most of my remarks to the amendments, with one exception. As the hon. Member for Surrey Heath said, this is a front-loaded Bill. The contentious issues are early on. He made great play of that in an attack that I have heard from him before, and was joined by the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon. I was a little more surprised to hear that from the Liberal Democrat Benches, but it would be just my luck to get the Eurosceptic wing of the Liberal Democrats, such as it is. I think that the hon. Gentleman is the sole member.

Mr. Burnett: I hope you will be patient with this intervention, Mr. O'Hara. I am certainly not Eurosceptic. I do not think that many hon. Members are. Most seek to scrutinise legislation on its merits. As I said earlier, we understand that there is reason for a more swift extradition procedure, but it must not be at the cost of jettisoning or sacrificing long-held principles and civil liberties.

Mr. Ainsworth: That is good, and I am glad to hear it. I hope that we can do precisely that. The one point that I wanted to pick up on was that the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon said that he was gravely concerned about our extraditing people to jurisdictions that were far from fair and far from open. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath has made his views on our extraditing people to other EU states pretty clear in other Committees at which I have been present. He expressed concern that entirely innocent British citizens could

    ''be wrongly sent abroad at the instigation of a corrupt judicial authority abroad.''—[Official Report, European Standing Committee B, 10 December 2001; c. 37.]

That is our problem. That is why I asked him the specific question about whether he accepted that when the European convention on extradition was approved by the House under a Conservative Government in 1991, all ability to examine the prima facie case against the defendant subject to an extradition request to a European convention country had been removed.

He agreed that he knew that that was the case, and did not demur from the fact that it should remain so. That is a problem, because the issues that he raised with such passion concerned not wanting to send

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people to corrupt judicial authorities abroad without an examination. He said clearly that British citizens needed to feel that there would be senior judicial scrutiny in the issuing state, but he does not feel that that would be the case. He does not believe that those are the sort of jurisdictions to which we should send people, and therefore he surely does not believe, in his heart of hearts, that we should ever have dropped the prima facie case.

He has repeatedly prayed in evidence, as have some sections of the press, the issue of the plane-spotters in Greece. I remind the Committee that that was not an extradition case. Over time in the Home Office I have asked officials, and discussed with them at length, what would have happened if that case had related to an extradition offence under current legislation. The only difference between the way in which that case would have been dealt with under the European arrest warrant as proposed in the Bill and under our current extradition law was a matter of time. As Home Office Ministers, we would have been confronted with a request, called an ''authority to proceed'', and would not have been able to refuse that request. If we had refused it because we did not accept that the evidence was sufficient or appropriate, our decision would have been subject to judicial review and we would have found ourselves outwith the current legislative framework of this country. The matter would then have been referred to the Bow street magistrates court, which would have found itself in exactly the same position. It could not have examined the prima facie case against people who were accused of espionage. Those people were not accused of a list of generic and vague offences, but of espionage. The case would then have returned to a Minister for a final decision, and that Minister would again have been unable to do anything about it, on pain of judicial review and being found outwith the legislative framework agreed by the House in 1991.

The hon. Gentleman therefore raises an issue that has nothing to do with the clause or the amendments. The issue that he raises relates to the fact that he does not trust European jurisdictions—those of current members of the European Union, never mind those in the past—to deal with people appropriately and to operate within the framework of the European convention on human rights, and that he does not believe that people should be extradited to those countries.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath should not have agreed to the Single European Act or to the European convention on extradition. It is understandable that some members of the Conservative party are ashamed of their past record in that area. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath has made his position clear, but I was slightly surprised that the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon joined in the hon. Gentleman's strong criticism of those jurisdictions and the way in which they do their business.

 
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