Extradition Bill

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Mr. Carmichael: I, too, can be brief. I have every sympathy with the point that is made by means of the amendment, but I have difficulty with its wording. I suspect that the difference is that when the police charge someone in England and Wales, that is the start of criminal proceedings. In Scotland, caution and charge is a procedural formality. Proceedings are taken only at the instance of the procurator fiscal when he or she decides to put matters to court. While there is great deal of force to the arguments of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, it would have been preferable had he framed his amendment in terms of facing charges in court or court proceedings. I have sympathy with his aims, but not the means.

Mr. Maples: The framework document is clear about this. Article 1 states:

    ''for the purposes of conducting a criminal prosecution''.

However, the Bill talks of someone being accused of something, which is a much looser term. I cannot understand why the Minister resisted the insertion of ''judicial''. The Government do not get everything right. It may be surprising, but Governments make mistakes. Some of our amendments would wreck the proposed legislation and I can understand him resisting those. However, I cannot understand why the Government resist a technical amendment that would improve the Bill. I have the feeling that that will be the Minister's problem with the House of Lords. Will he return to the House of Commons in this issue?

I do not know whether my hon. Friend's wording achieves his objective, but our objective is to ensure that the procedure can be used only where someone will be prosecuted and charged with an offence, whatever the correct term would be. Being accused is much vaguer than being charged. I would be happy to use the words in the framework document, which are

    ''for the purpose of conducting a criminal prosecution''.

Presumably both that phrase and the judicial authority point, which are both in article 1 of the framework decision, were pored over by Government lawyers, and presumably the Government claim some credit for having got those things in to tighten things up. Why then loosen them up in our legislation? I cannot understand why we insist on what is essentially a treaty commitment being fairly precise, yet have a vague piece of legislation that is capable of wider interpretation. The Government should consider the amendment seriously. If the Minister does not think that the wording works, I would be happy for him to return with something on Report or in the House of Lords that achieves the objective. If every genuine attempt to improve the Bill is to be rejected because the Government did not think of it, we will end up with a bad Bill and a raft of House of Lords amendments that the Minister will have to deal with later.

Mr. Ainsworth: Having failed to convince Opposition Members that what was in the Bill effectively meant judicial authority, I will have to try a little harder now. I do not think that there are any substantial differences between us on this issue. We are both clear that in an accusation case, which is a case where a person has yet to be convicted, extradition

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should be possible only for the purpose of putting the person on trial. It should not be possible for the purpose of interrogation or evidence gathering. Clause 2(3) is drafted to achieve that result. It does not talk about a person being ''suspected'' of an offence or of having evidence to give about the offence. It is quite clear that the person must be accused of the offence.

I am advised that the wording proposed by the hon. Gentleman would make no material difference.

Mr. Hawkins: Well, accept it.

Mr. Ainsworth: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue for just a minute. If hon. Gentlemen feel strongly that that is a better form of words, I should be happy to consider whether any differences would arise from it. I have been assured that it would make no difference, but it would necessitate an awful lot of amendments. The phrase occurs repeatedly. We have to take into account the point raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. The words in this amendment may not be suitable for the Scottish jurisdiction, although they may well be suitable for the English and Welsh jurisdictions. I shall consider whether there is any material between the phrases ''accused'' and ''faces charges''. I have been assured that there is no difference, but I shall be happy to examine the point again.

Mr. Maples: I am grateful to the Minister for taking that approach, and I am happy for him to re-examine the point. Oppositions often table amendments that have technical defects but try to achieve a purpose, and I should be grateful if he would look a little wider and consider using the words that are in the framework decision

    ''for the purpose of conducting a criminal prosecution''.

I would be perfectly happy if that terminology were incorporated. It is clear what we are concerned about, and I want the Minister to consult his advisers on both the amendment and the words in the framework decision.

Mr. Ainsworth: I hope that I am making that clear. I am not sure that the amendment contains the appropriate words, but I do not think that there is any difference in principle—as was true in the last case, despite the bluster—or that there is any intention for us to allow arrest warrants to be issued by anyone other than judicial authorities. On whether we have the right words or there is a better phrase, I assure Opposition Members that I will take into account the points that they have made, including those of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, and the wording of the framework document when considering whether we could improve on the current wording. With that assurance, I ask the hon. Member for Surrey Heath to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister is being splendidly reasonable on this amendment. I do not hang my hat on a particular form of words, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon said, by tabling an amendment we are alerting the Government to the extent of our concerns. I accept entirely the comment of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that there may be better wording that is more appropriate for the law north of the border.

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The Minister's undertaking to re-examine the matter and incorporate something along the lines of our proposals, the framework decision wording or, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, an expansion of our wording to include what is appropriate to Scots law is entirely reasonable and sensible. However, other bodies share our concerns, and I hope that the Minister and his officials will bear in mind the fact that if he is unable to come up with something satisfactory, he is likely to face similar arguments in the other place. I hope that, treating the matter seriously as he has done on this amendment, he will return with an improvement that includes the protection that we feel is vital in the legislation.

In light of the Minister's approach, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 102, in

    clause 2, page 1, line 20, after first 'the' insert 'Part 1'.

No. 103, in

    clause 2, page 1, line 21, at end insert—

    '(3A) The information is—

    (a) particulars of the person's identity;

    (b) particulars of any other warrant issued in the category 1 territory for the person's arrest in respect of the offence;

    (c) particulars of the circumstances in which the person is alleged to have committed the offence, including the conduct alleged to constitute the offence and the time and place at which he is alleged to have committed the offence;

    (d) particulars of the sentence which may be imposed under the law of the category 1 territory in respect of the offence if the person is convicted of it.'.

No. 104, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 2, after second 'the' insert 'Part 1'.

No. 105, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 5, after first 'the' insert 'Part 1'.—[Mr. Bob Ainsworth.]

Mr. Hawkins: I beg to move amendment No. 8, in

    clause 2, page 2, line 7, leave out 'or another form of detention'.

Amendment No. 8 also concerns a matter that we feel is serious and important. It would reintroduce what was contemplated in the framework decision, which is that offences for which someone may be extradited should be serious enough normally to attract a sentence of three years' imprisonment rather than the 12 months that is detailed in the Bill. We are not the only ones saying that—many organisations agree, including Justice and Liberty. The Labour-dominated Home Affairs Committee also agree, as do some of the Government's Back Benchers who spoke on Second Reading. The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Gareth Thomas) spoke at length and made the point that because we are talking about a new regime with much more draconian measures, it is not good enough for the Minister to defend the figure of 12 months, as he did at Second Reading and during Tuesday's debate on clause 1, by saying simply that it was the figure under the previous legislation. That is not an effective argument, and I hope that the Minister will not bother us with it this morning.

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I will quote again the Select Committee report. Paragraph 48 says:

    ''Both JUSTICE and Liberty expressed serious concerns about this proposal. JUSTICE supported the three-year maximum penalty being retained, on the grounds that 'this would go some way to avoid the abusive use of the coercive measure of extradition for minor offences that do not constitute crimes in this country.' ''

We have already discussed the vagueness of some of the 32 offences set out in the framework decision. The report continues:

    ''Liberty pointed out that, in the 13 years since the Extradition Act 1989''—

itself a consolidation measure of legislation dating from late Victorian times—

    ''was enacted, UK courts have intervened to refuse extradition in a significant number of EU cases, and the Home Secretary has refused to extradite in a significant number of other cases where extradition would have been plainly wrong or unjust.''

11 am

Paragraph 49 continues:

    ''We asked the Home Office why they proposed to reduce the dual criminality protection threshold. In response, they told us that they believed that applying a 12 month threshold is appropriate because the threshold is still sufficiently high to ensure that the conduct in question must be regarded as a matter of some seriousness in the criminal justice system of the country making the request.''

However, ''some seriousness'' is inappropriate for something serious enough to warrant the extradition of a British citizen. The Home Office stated that

    ''a three-year threshold has never previously featured in extradition law''.

The Labour-dominated Home Affairs Committee retorted:

    ''We consider that the Home Office's response fails to deal with the obvious point that, although a 12-month threshold may ensure that the offence is a matter of 'some seriousness', the framework decision clearly envisages that only offences serious enough to warrant a three year maximum penalty should be exempt from the dual criminality requirement.''

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