Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): I add my voice to those who have welcomed you to the Chair, Miss Begg. You are a welcome addition to the Chairmen's Panel. I have already had the privilege of serving under your chairmanship of the Scottish Grand Committee, and I am confident that our proceedings in this Committee will be exceedingly well chaired.
I preface my remarks by reminding hon. Members that reference to the British legal system irritates me when I am feeling less patient than I am today. I agreed with much that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon said, but there is more than one legal system in this country. I merely observe in passing that there are certain safeguards in Scotland: for example, the Scottish legal system insists that a person who is remanded in custody on a petition proceeding must be brought for trial within 110 days and on a summary complaint within 40 days. Thereafter the Crown must prove its case beyond reasonable doubt using corroborated evidence. Such safeguards are not given to all citizens in the United Kingdom, which I have
Column Number: 046always found difficult to explain. The lesson from that is that when we speak of our legal system, we should do so with a fair measure of humility.
As the hon. Member for Surrey Heath has already said, amendment No. 127 is designed to achieve largely the same aims as the Conservative amendments. However, I will raise some questions about the Conservative amendments, and I suggest for reasons of simplicity and succinctness that the Liberal Democrat amendments, and the speeches proposing them, might be preferred.
The insertion of the words ''a judicial'' would give the proper amount of judicial scrutiny, which is an important protection, as the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon said earlier. Although the issuing of warrants is a judicial prerogative in the UK legal systems, the function is not solely performed by judges in other European countries. Investigating magistrates in countries that use the Napoleonic code often have the warrant powers that we reserve to the judiciary. However, especially considering the provisions in subsection (3)(a), some judicial scrutiny is important to ensure that all procedures have been observed and properly executed up to the point at which the warrant is issued.
My difficulty with the Conservative amendment No. 2 may just be a typographical point but I do not understand why ''High Court'' should be capitalised. I can understand why the High Court is capitalised, but I think that better terminology might have been ''a high court'' or ''a superior court''. The amendment would insert the words:
Another difficulty is that that would require a Scottish court to determine how the presumption of innocence is applied in England and Wales. One would expect that it would be largely the same, but in Scotland the presumption of innocence is rebuttable only on the production of corroborated evidence, which is not the case in England and Wales. There is clearly a difference in which the presumption of innocence is applied in the different parts of the United Kingdom, and I do not think that the words
are particularly helpful or should be included in the Bill.
That said, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat amendments both seek to achieve the same important aim. The function of the judiciary as the safeguard for individual liberty is important, as has been mentioned at length by others. It is perhaps something of a de minimis safeguard, but one that we should not abandon lightly.
Mr. Ainsworth: I am grateful to hon. Members for tabling the amendments. The Committee knows that part 1 gives effect to the framework decision of the European arrest warrant. All hon. Members will have studied that document, Let us try to ensure that we examine the issue by reading those two documents together. The Committee will find that there is no huge issue of principle between us, but perhaps there will be.
Column Number: 047It may emerge during the course of debate. I ask the hon. Member for Surrey Heath at least to accept that we have no intention of conning Committees at this or any other stage.
Article 1 of the framework decision states:
More pertinently, article 6 states:
That could not be clearer. There is no suggestion, nor even the possibility, that a police officer can issue a European arrest warrant without being in breach of the framework decision. That ties in with the legislation quite clearly, because clause 2(5) states that
The function takes us straight back to those authorities that have that function as laid out in the framework document being judicial authorities under the law of the issuing state. There is no attempt to renege on any commitments that were given in previous Committees. The framework document could not be clearer. We sought safeguards during the negotiation of the document to ensure that we protected rights in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests we should.
Mr. Maples: A British court dealing with an application for the extradition of someone under part 1 would read the Bill, not the framework document. If the Government took the trouble to get ''judicial'' inserted into the framework document, why cannot they simply put it in the Bill? Subsection (5) is ambiguous. It says that the authority
A police officer may well be one of the people or organisations that have a function of issuing arrest warrants in another territory. If the arrest warrant is to be acted on under this legislation, it should be issued by a judicial authority. The question of the presumption of innocence is different, but the insertion of ''judicial'' in these two places could solve the problem. I am not sure why the Minister resists it.
Mr. Ainsworth: Let us discuss how we deal with extradition warrants currently and how we expect them to be dealt with under the European arrest warrant framework. If hon. Members are still not satisfied at the end of the debate they can make their views known. We expect that European arrest warrants will be issued in future by exactly the same authorities as issue warrants under the current arrest procedures. We intend to do that in the United Kingdom. There is no reason to suppose that our intentions are different from those of any other European country. The Bill is drafted in such a way as to include all those authorities that currently issue arrest warrants, as issuing authorities. I have yet to hear an argument that says that we should change that.
The Committee is well aware that we have enjoyed extradition arrangements with all EU member states
Column Number: 048for many years. Extradition requests come from a variety of sources. Any Member who read the proceedings of European Standing Committee B would be aware of the wide variety of sources for current extradition requests—the examining magistrate in Liege, the magistrate at the public prosecutor's office in Amsterdam, the Court of Brescia, the county tribunal of Bobigny or even the magistrate judge Maria Teresa Palacios Criado in Madrid. That gives an idea of the span of arrangements used by our European partners and the sort of people who make arrest warrants today. We do not believe that that will or can change: the framework document insists on no widening outwith the judicial authorities in the part 1 countries.
We receive extradition requests from a variety of sources throughout the UK and we should recognise that other EU countries do not have exactly the same structure of criminal justice system as our own. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland rightly pointed out, our system is structured in two different ways. The current system works well and has not given rise to any problems in the recent past stemming from an inappropriate request from a European partner for extradition. I see no reason to change the system.
By the time that countries start to operate the European arrest warrant, we will know which authorities will be competent to issue them. It will be reasonably straightforward for the issuing authority to be identified and it will be possible to cross-check them with the central record kept by the general secretariat.
Some of the Conservative amendments suggest that we should accept warrants only from a high court or its equivalent, which would be problematic. How would the UK authorities and judges decide which issuing authorities constitute a high court? Why should we stipulate that only a higher level of authority should be permitted to make extradition requests to the UK when we have been working with colleagues in other countries without problems for many years?
The presumption of innocence is another problem. Article 6 of the ECHR deals with the right to a fair trial. It makes it clear that a person shall be
All EU member states have signed up to and implemented the ECHR, so it is difficult to understand why Opposition Members have such a problem here.
As to convictions in absentia, the Bill makes it clear that extradition will take place only if the fugitive has a guarantee of a retrial or a review amounting to a retrial. A retrial for a person convicted in absentia begins with the presumption of that person's innocence, as guaranteed under ECHR provisions. If Opposition Members are suggesting that we should second-guess the approach of a foreign court, the Committee should view that as unrealistic. If the UK ever extradited only to countries where the courts operated an identical system—the amendments refer to the High Court or an equivalent—I cannot begin to imagine the damage that that would do to our international reputation. I do not believe that the
Column Number: 049Committee would like the UK to be seen as a country that refuses to co-operate on serious criminal matters unless other states accede to our—quite unrealistic—demands that their legal systems should mirror our own.
If the Bill is read in conjunction with the framework document, the only people who are allowed to issue a European arrest warrant are those who have that function under the framework document. That document spells out that such people must be judicial authorities. I accept that the fears raised by Opposition Members are real, but I hope that if they are prepared to read the two documents together, they will be satisfied that the sort of abuses that they believe may arise cannot do so.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2003||Prepared 9 January 2003|