Extradition Bill

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Mr. Burnett: I hope that the Minister will concede that it is essential, when scrutinising a Bill, to ensure that the rights of individuals in this country are upheld.

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I drew attention to inadequacies in some of the states that are currently in the European Union. I hope that those states will improve. The point of my doing that was to alert the Chairman and the Committee to the tenor of some of the amendments that we shall table. They will be constructive.

Mr. Ainsworth: I hope that they will be. The argument that those jurisdictions are unfair, cannot be trusted and are not open is surely an argument against ever accepting to drop a prima facie case in extradition proceedings. If it were an issue for decision in 1991 it could be reopened, but the hon. Member for Surrey Heath denies that he wishes to reopen it. I have tried to show that the amount of latitude to question the underlying fairness of those jurisdictions has nothing to with the European arrest warrant; it has to do with accepting the non-admittance or non-requirement of a prima facie case for extradition to those countries.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath said that corpus juris is being introduced by the back door. We are members of the European Union. Some of us are more comfortable with that than others, but it is a fact of life. As members of the European Union we have freedom of movement across the continent in Europe, which is unparalleled in our history. That brings many benefits to us, but also many problems. There are only three ways in which to respond. First, we could say that, irrespective of the fact that people can move freely between our country and our European neighbours, we are going to stick with our long-winded, cumbersome extradition arrangements that are incapable of being used in many cases of criminality, and we will ignore the fact that crime has an international dimension and that people can move freely between our countries. If people escape justice, that is tough. That is the price we pay for open borders—we are prepared to take the economic benefits from having open borders and we accept that criminals will escape justice. We will not bring the law up to date to cope with that ability to move freely between different countries.

Secondly, we could do what the hon. Member for Surrey Heath is frightened of, and what he says we are trying to do by the back door, and we could apply corpus juris across the European Union. A European Union legal framework would subsume British, French and German law.

The only alternative to those two extremes is mutual recognition. The Government have not been led by the framework decision or bullied by other Governments in the European Union. In proposing mutual recognition as an alternative to the establishment of a corpus juris across Europe we have led, because we recognise that a corpus juris would be extremely difficult and painful and would have severe consequences for our legal traditions.

Amendment No. 1 would introduce the affirmative resolution procedure for designating part 1 countries. It echoes the Home Affairs Select Committee's report. Its adoption would mark a key departure from current extradition procedures. Under the system laid out by the Extradition Act 1989—when the Conservative Government were in office—the designation of UK-

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European partners by the negative resolution procedure was established.

Eight years after the Conservatives came to power they accepted that the negative resolution was appropriate and should be continued with, but now they see it as a means to do things by ministerial fiat. They rubbish the negative resolution procedure, which provides Parliament with an opportunity to reject an order for designating a country. I do not know of a single instance where Parliament has chosen to exercise that right. The Home Affairs Select Committee argued that the precedent was not strong enough and that we should overturn it, but it did not give any reasons or examples of when it had created a problem in the past. I ask hon. Gentlemen to accept—it is not a partisan point—that all Governments are confronted by the problem and that parliamentary time is limited.

If Opposition Members feel that a huge point of principle is at stake, which makes an affirmative resolution essential, I will be happy to discuss it with colleagues, but clearly no huge point of principle is at stake because we do not propose to go round designating countries willy-nilly for part 1 procedures. We intend to designate existing members of the European Union as part 1 countries, together with, in all probability, Iceland and Norway. I do not know how controversial that will appear to the House. I do not know how many people in Committee or elsewhere will oppose the designation of Iceland or Norway, but I suspect that it will not be contentious. If we extend the European Union to the states of eastern Europe, we plan to designate such new members in the same way. That is the full extent of our plans.

5.45 pm

Some fears were expressed about designating the United States as a part 1 country, but the United States has no desire to be so designated. We are discussing extradition arrangements with that country, but I repeat that we have no intention of designating it as a part 1 country.

If people believe that it is of stupendous importance to replace the negative procedure for the designation of new countries with the affirmative procedure—apart from extensive quotation from the Home Affairs Committee report in respect of parts of the Bill that we have not yet reached, most of the bluster and argument were about that—I will be happy to discuss with business managers whether that change should be made. However, no problem existed in the past, and we have no plans to introduce contentious proposals, so I am not convinced that all the bluster is warranted.

Amendment No. 90 came as a surprise to me and I doubt whether people realise what would result if we adopted it. I shall explain its effect and argue that amendment No. 116 is also inappropriate. Under amendment No. 90, category 1 countries would be determined in a different way. If a country were party to the ECHR, it would automatically be a category 1 country. That places a huge and disproportionate amount of trust in countries simply because they have signed the convention, and it would give Parliament no domestic say over whether a country should be

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accepted into the streamlined extradition procedures. I ask the Committee to regard amendment No. 90 as far too inclusive and to view amendment No. 116 as unnecessarily restrictive in the light of our intention to adopt the part 1 categorisation only for existing EU member states, Norway and Iceland. We presently have no intention of going beyond that. I have given assurances about not designating the United States.

Opposition Members contend that part 2 would be sufficient to deal with all non-terrorist-related offences, which I find a little strange. They are happy to use the fast-track system for those who are accused of the most serious crimes, but for other crimes—I do not know whether they would consider some crimes as routine, but that might include drug or people trafficking, non-terrorist murders or war crimes—they want the more protracted system of extradition.

It strikes me that there is an element of political opportunism in the Opposition's proposals, because in the aftermath of 11 September they dare not propose anything terrorist related, but instead want to block any EU measures. Their judgment has been clouded by their belief that the EU has foisted the proposals that underpin the European arrest warrant on us, when the opposite is true. In the Justice and Home Affairs Councils of the European Union we have pushed for the acceptance of the principle of mutual recognition, so many of the ingredients contained in the European arrest warrant arise from our consultation on the need to review our extradition arrangements.

Part 1 is designed to respond to that by establishing a fast-track regime for our extradition arrangements with countries in whose criminal justice systems we have faith. The Opposition do not believe that we can trust those countries, and that is the basic reason behind their objection to extending part 1 to anything other than terrorist offences.

Given that the Opposition believe that part 1 procedures are appropriate for terrorist crimes, there must surely be no objection to them being used in other serious crimes. I have yet to hear any argument from the hon. Member for Surrey Heath that there is a distinct difference between a bank robber in Spain who commits a robbery for personal gain and one who commits the same robbery to fund, for example, the terrorist organisation ETA. Why on earth should we have two completely separate arrangements for our extradition procedures with the Spanish depending on the motive of the criminal, rather than on the crime that is committed? What problems would that present us in taking a decision about which arrangement should be used for a certain offence?

Mr. Howarth: Has my hon. Friend had the opportunity to read House of Commons Library research paper on the Bill? Page 8 covers the question of what is a political offence and quotes the case of Cheng v. Governor of Pentonville Prison. It says:

    ''The UK has a very substantial body of case law. Improper motives on the part of the requesting state automatically makes the offence one of a political character. Political motives on the part of the offender do not make an offence one 'of a political character'.''

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If we followed the Opposition's proposals, terrorism would be the sole offence that could be considered—my hon. Friend has argued against that anyway—and it would be almost impossible for any terrorist-related offence to be considered under the procedures. That would make the system almost inoperable.

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Prepared 7 January 2003