Mr. Hawkins: I cannot resist teasing the Minister for saying that the assurances will normally come from the prosecutor. In a debate earlier this afternoon, the Minister was at great pains to point out that there was no prosecution, so there could not be a prosecutor. I think that he means counsel for the British Government.
Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is right. We would need to receive assurances, and they could come from the prosecutor.
We see no reason to involve Ministers in a decision that we believe a district judge is fully competent to take. There have been no cases in living memory in which an assurance has been given and not honoured, and we see no reason why that should change in future.
The judge would need to be satisfied that any such assurance is binding. If the judge is in any doubt about the validity of the undertakings he must refuse to extradite.
By doing away with the possibility of considering such assurances, the Liberal Democrat amendment would remove the possibility of extraditing people to countries where the death penalty could be applied. That could have perverse consequences. It could mean that the UK provided sanctuary for someone accused abroad of the most heinous crimes. While we readily extradite to the same country for less serious crimes, we would not extradite a person because the death penalty was available, despite the fact that we had received cast-iron assurances that the death penalty would not be imposed or would not be carried out. We would extradite for theft but not for murder. The murderer would not be brought to justice. That would be the effect of the amendments. There would be a bar on extradition, despite the fact that those assurances had been given.
Mr. Burnett: I remind the Minister that we are discussing category 1 status countries.
Mr. Ainsworth: We are and I am talking about the principle. I have tried to reassure him that there is very little likelihood that this clause would be used in category 1 countries. When we come to category 2 we will see that the same clause is included. One of our
Column Number: 103main extradition partners is the United States, which has the death penalty and which gives us the assurances that are required. We regularly, or as regularly as we do anything relating to extradition, extradite people back to the United States for capital offences and we receive the appropriate assurances that capital punishment will not be carried out.
Mr. Carmichael: I should like to explore what the Minister describes as a great point of principle. I do not understand the point he is making. He seems to be saying that we will extradite if we can get an assurance from the country seeking extradition that, ''Well, it is murder, but not a very bad murder so we will not apply the death penalty.'' If it is such a bad murder or series of murders that the country seeking extradition is not prepared to give that assurance, presumably we will not proceed to extradite. Where is his principle then?
Mr. Ainsworth: In order that we may deal with the principle, let us forget for a minute the likelihood of this happening in a category 1 country. What would the hon. Gentleman have us do? We have an assurance, with a particular crime, that if the person is found guilty of that capital offence, capital punishment will not be inflicted on them. When we are satisfied that a country will honour the assurance that it has given us, do we want to tell that country that it cannot have the person back to put him on trial and cannot lock him up[Interruption.] Well, that would be the effect of the amendment.
The amendment would put a bar on extradition to countries where capital punishment was available. That is not how we do business at present. We extradite people to the United States but if we do so when they could be subject to capital punishment we receive the appropriate assurances. The death penalty is not carried out and yet the murderer, for instance, is taken back before a court in the United States, is punished and is locked up.
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I should have thought that the Liberal Democrats would want not want murderers to be able to walk away. That would be the effect of the amendment. As I said, it would be extremely unlikely in a category 1 country, but I ask them to accept that the assurances are appropriate. They have been adequate. They have avoided capital punishment being carried out and yet they have allowed people who have committed heinous crimes to be returned to countries where that is available and punished in another way.
Mr. Burnett: I suspect that this might be the conclusion of our proceedings this evening, but I do not want to jump the gun. This is an important matter and deserves the great scrutiny and debate that we have had. As the Minister confirms, the clause relates to category 1 territories. The procedure is entirely different for them. We are not prepared to withdraw the amendment. When a state in category 1 operates the death penalty, if the person could be, will be or has been sentenced to death, there should be no extradition.
Question put, That the amendment be made:
The Committee divided: Ayes 2, Noes 9.
Division No. 12]
Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Further consideration adjourned.[Mr. Derek Twigg.]
Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes to Six o'clock till Tuesday 14 January at twenty-five minutes past Nine o'clock.
The following Members attended the Committee:
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