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Standing Committee Debates
Extradition Bill

Extradition Bill

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Standing Committee D

Thursday 9 January 2003

(Morning)

[Miss Anne Begg in the Chair]

Extradition Bill

9.25 am

The Chairman: I welcome hon. Members to the Committee on this chilly morning. Obviously, we are used to this sort of temperature in my part of the world. One of my Scottish colleagues has already asked whether it is in order for him to remove his jacket. I am not sure what sort of temperature he is used to, but it is perfectly acceptable for hon. Gentlemen to remove their jackets if they so wish. This is the first Standing Committee that I have chaired, and I am very pleased to be here. The Committee will be in my tender care for the rest of the day.

Clause 1

Extradition to category 1 territories

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Thank you, Miss Begg. I understand that, on reflection with your co-Chairman, Mr. O'Hara, you agreed to allow a brief clause stand part debate. I am grateful for that decision and welcome you to the Chair.

I shall not repeat what I said at length in moving the Opposition's initial group of amendments. It was particularly helpful that Mr. O'Hara said that clause 1 showed how front-loaded the Bill was, and the Minister was kind enough to confirm that. We all take the view that much of the meat is at the beginning of the Bill. However, this clause is short. Its significance lies more in the issues that have been left out. I am referring to the fact that British citizens will no longer have the protection of such historic rights as habeas corpus, that the European arrest warrant may be used to take away historic civil liberties of citizens of this country, and to all the other issues that I raised under the initial amendments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) made very important points on Second Reading, to which I referred briefly on Tuesday, and he will wish to address the Committee in this debate. I confirm that the Opposition believe that it would have been much better had the Government been honest enough to list at the beginning of the Bill all 32 categories in the framework decision. That is perhaps the biggest gap in clause 1. If the Government were being honest, they would have made it clear that the provision was really an attempt to introduce the European concept of corpus juris into United Kingdom law by the back door.

A range of organisations, from those traditionally regarded as on the left of politics, such as Liberty and Justice, right through to those on the right of politics, such as the Freedom Association and the Democracy

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Movement, have also argued that, if the Government were being honest, they should have set out at the beginning of the Bill the 32 vague categories in the framework decision. The fact that they are not listed there is one of the chief things wrong with the clause. That is the mischief in it.

The Opposition have said repeatedly that if part 1 of the Bill were restricted to dealing with terrorism, these very draconian measures would have been acceptable, given the exceptional risk and threat of terrorist offences. However, it is not acceptable for this part to cover such vague crimes as xenophobia and computer-related crime. As I said, the Government should have made it clear at the outset that they were to take away the historic right of British citizens to habeas corpus and should have set out the 32 categories. I shall not detain the Committee further. I simply wanted to set out where the Opposition think the mischief lies.

The Chairman: I was minded to allow a debate on clause 1 stand part, because some Members from the official Opposition were absent on Tuesday. However, I remind hon. Members that there are many other clauses to be debated and that this is a timetabled Bill, and I appeal to them to be brief.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): I apologise for not having been here yesterday, but I was a late addition to the Committee and could not come. I shall briefly restate some of the points that I made on Second Reading. Part 1 is fundamentally misconceived. It is our job as Members to protect, not to detract from, the long-won freedoms of citizens of this country.

The Bill will have scandalous consequences. It is difficult to believe that a Government who pride themselves—as everyone can—on having an honourable record on human rights, individual freedoms and judicial protection for the individual in standing up to the powers of the state, could ever have entered into this European framework document and translated it into this legislation. That is not to say that we do not need to make changes to extradition law. I first made this point after the Prime Minister's statement immediately after 11 September regarding four terrorists who are still in this country. He blamed the legislation, the details of which we shall discuss later, but I believe that we can blame the courts and the Home Office for a large part of the delay at least.

I entirely agree that we need some changes to our extradition procedures. There are far too many appeals. There are two tracks: judicial review and extradition. I would have little problem with the reform if it were based on part 2, but I have problems with the residual powers to the Home Secretary under clause 193. The reforms proposed in part 2 are right. They are sensible and allow people the freedom to challenge extradition, but reduce the number of appeals, and will inevitably reduce the amount of time taken.

I have no problem with fast-tracking certain countries, as I have no problem with the judicial systems of many of our European partners. Not all of them, however, and certainly not all the candidate

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countries that may come in, will become party to the framework decision and thus beneficiaries of the legislation. With regard to the offences listed in the framework document, the legislation is removing all the protections that have been built up for British citizens over hundreds of years. Not a single protection will be left standing. Dual criminality, prima facie cases, which have gone already, and the Home Secretary's powers are all at the heart of extradition law.

If the Government are using the European framework document as a way of dealing with the problem of extraditing terrorists, or those accused of terrorism, more quickly, that is an excuse, not a reason. In Britain, three people are in jail accused of the African embassy bombings in 1998. They are still in this country. It took more than two years to reach the divisional court and another year to reach the House of Lords. That was a year ago, and the Home Secretary has still not made his decision under the Act on those cases. If those three people had been extradited and could have been questioned, who knows whether the recent bombings in Mombassa or other acts by al-Qaeda terrorists or other groups of terrorists unassociated with al-Qaeda could have been prevented.

Extradition was sought—I do not remember whether it was to the United States or Kenya. It is a scandal that those people are still here. They are taking advantage of the protections that I want to keep, but are using them to delay extradition for four years. The courts have much to answer for. Those delays are utterly scandalous. The judges, the divisional court and the House of Lords should not have allowed procedures to delay the extradition of those people for so long, and the Home Secretary has much to answer for in not having ordered their extradition 12 months after the House of Lords dealt with their cases.

However, those are not the worst cases. The worst case by far is that of Rachid Ramda, an Algerian accused of the Paris metro bombings in 1995. He was arrested in November 1995, so he has been here for more than seven years. It took a year to reach the divisional court, and another two years to reach the House of Lords, at which point he dropped his appeal. It then took the Home Secretary 29 months—nearly two and a half years—to order his removal. We cannot blame the legislation for the courts and the Home Secretary each taking two and a half years. That demonstrates a manifest lack of urgency on the part of both those institutions. The Home Secretary ordered his removal, but the House of Lords found fault with that, and the Home Secretary has been asked to reconsider his decision.

That is a scandal. Who knows what Rachid Ramda might have done? If the accusations against him are correct, he is involved in the Algerian terrorist group, the GIA. It would appear that the people who have been arrested in connection with the discovery of ricin in London are also connected with that group. If he had been questioned by the French security authorities about the Paris metro bombings, who knows whether

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that might have led them to links with other Algerian terrorist groups? It is not an adequate reason for bringing forward part 1 of the Bill to deal with terrorism. The appeal process could have been tightened up, and if the Lord Chancellor spent a bit of time kicking some of his fellow judges into acting with a greater sense of urgency and the Home Secretary had spent some of his time dealing with these important issues rather than letting them languish on his desk—for years, in one case—we would have made a great deal of progress with those cases and other terrorist outrages may have been prevented.

My main objection to the Bill is the list of offences in the European framework document, and my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) referred to its vagueness. What does computer-related crime mean? I suppose that it is intended to mean mass frauds committed over the internet, or the mass distribution of pornographic or illegal material or incitement to violence. Does computer-related crime also include a 16-year-old dopehead stealing someone's computer? That sounds like a computer-related crime to me. I am not surprised that the draftsman declined to incorporate the list into the Bill directly but chose to do so by reference. No draftsman of British legislation and no British lawyer would produce such an unbelievably vague document. It cries out for further and better particulars, to use a legal expression. It is too vague to be the basis of any criminal law procedure. If people are to be arrested, extradited and imprisoned for crimes, they are entitled to a more precise definition of what they are accused of.

I am worried that the proposal does not define criminal offences. That is the procedure for legislation in the European Union and in our partner countries, but that is not a reason for sacrificing the long-held traditions of our own legal system, which I would argue is superior to the legal systems of many of our European partners. If anything, they should draw on our legal system rather than we on theirs. I am especially concerned that the dual criminality rule is to be dropped. That is the fundamental point about the list in the framework document. The only thing that separates it from offences that are not on that list is the absence of the requirement about dual criminality. That has been an aspect of extradition law for hundreds of years and is a fundamental protection. We too often think only about how to get back a German, French or Austrian person who has committed a crime in this country to stand trial here. I am concerned about forcing British citizens, our constituents, to stand trial in another country for something that is not an offence in the United Kingdom. They should not have to do that, and I am horrified that a fundamental, valuable protection has been dropped.

The final element of democratic accountability in extradition, which is the Home Secretary's discretion about whether to extradite someone, has also been dropped. At present, he has two discretions in the process and the proceedings can be shortened by reducing it to one, which is proposed in part 2.

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Nevertheless, the final, residual power of the Home Secretary in clause 193 is tightly circumscribed—I shall argue that it is far too tightly circumscribed when we come to that clause. Two of the fundamental protections that British law has long accorded to its citizens are being sacrificed on the altar of the European Union's desire that we should all have the same procedure. That is not necessary, especially if it means our having their procedures rather than the other way round.

We have already removed the prima facie case requirement for our European partners and I have misgivings about that, but it is water under the bridge. The fact that it is the only one of two requirements left reinforces my argument for dual criminality remaining a defence.

 
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Prepared 9 January 2003