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Mr. Brady: Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point; the whole House will want that issue to be tackled with great vigour.

We should note that we are considering not just the accession treaty but the protocol to it, which has particular implications for the applicant countries. Here, I return to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) made in an intervention. Of course, I cannot go down the route of discussing an amendment that was tabled but not selected, Sir Michael, but I should point out that the protocol provides for the constitution's implementation in both
 
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accession countries, should it be in place at the time of accession. I do not want to go into detail on this issue, but it is absolutely clear that we ought to be much more certain about the kind of EU that we are considering bringing new member states into.

The accession process continues: today, we are considering Romania and Bulgaria, and accession talks began recently for Croatia and Turkey. The more countries begin the process, the greater the need for real clarity about the nature of the EU.

1 pm

Mr. Cash: Is my hon. Friend aware that on 18 November the German coalition Government—and I believe that Angela Merkel is here today—made a commitment to complete the ratification of the constitutional treaty during the German presidency of the EU in the first half of 2007? I have just been hearing evidence about the charter of fundamental rights, but putting to one side that charter's implementation, there is no doubt that there is an impetus to achieving treaty ratification. Although my hon. Friend is completely right to raise the treaty question, what do we do about it? What sort of Europe do we really want?

Mr. Brady: I hesitate to stray too far from the subject of this debate, but my hon. Friend is right to say that the German coalition has committed itself to driving the constitution forward. Several other member states remain committed to the project, and one of the unfortunate missed opportunities of the British presidency over the past five months is that the Government have failed to put an end to the constitutional treaty process. However, that must happen if we are to accommodate the more diverse and larger EU that is emerging, and make it easier for countries such as Turkey to join. The EU that will thus develop will have the sort of flexibility that will make our relationship with it easier and more comfortable.

The Opposition strongly support the objective of Romanian and Bulgarian accession to the EU, but it is essential to get it right. We support the Bill, but urge the Minister and his colleagues to give the applicant countries the closest possible scrutiny, as well as the support and assistance that they need as the progress towards accession.

Mrs. Ellman: The matters being considered under clause 1 are extremely important. Accession to the EU is of great importance to the applicant countries and to the UK. Applicant countries have to be assessed by the European Commission, as must the compatibility of their domestic legal practices with the European convention on human rights. Only then can ratification take place.

I want to register my grave concern that Bulgaria may not be ready for admission to the EU in January 2007. I ask the Government to withhold support for that country's application.

I submitted a written question to my right hon. Friend the Minister about the European Commission's enhanced monitoring report on the state of Bulgaria. In his answer of 21 November, he said that he accepted the Commission's view that Bulgaria should review its pre-trial phase and improve the accountability of its justice system. I am interested in this matter because of the experience of my constituent Michael Shields.
 
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Michael Shields, now aged 19, is serving 15 years in prison in Bulgaria for the attempted murder of Martin Georgiev near the Big Ben fish and chip bar in Varna at around 5.30 am on 30 May. Another man, Graham Sankey, has confessed to the crime, saying that

but he has not been questioned about that confession. Michael has always protested his innocence. He says that he was asleep at the time and has produced evidence to substantiate the claim.

I held an Adjournment debate on this subject on 17 November, which can be found in the Official Report for that date, columns 1211–16. I set out the reasons for my concern in detail then, and I repeat my thanks to ministerial colleagues for their help in this matter. In this debate, however, I want to focus on the judicial aspects of Michael Shields's experience, which are relevant to our consideration of the accession treaty. I shall look at the European Commission's expressed concern, and the compatibility of Bulgaria's practices with the ECHR.

My first point has to do with the status of the prosecution in Bulgaria. The defence in the Michael Shields case has stated that the prosecution is part of the judiciary. If that is true, it raises major questions about the principle of equality of arms—that is, the status of the prosecution in relation to the defence. There is a major question about the quality of justice if the defence is put at a disadvantage in court, in breach of article 6 of the ECHR.

Secondly, I draw the House's attention to the detail of the conduct of the trial, and of the pre-trial phase. Stephen Jacobi, the renowned human rights lawyer and director of Fair Trial Abroad, was the international observer at the trial of Michael Shields in Varna. In a written report, he has stated that the way in which identification was authenticated was "quite appalling".

In addition, there appears to have been no protection of the crime scene and no forensics were undertaken to assist identification of witnesses. In court, witnesses resiled from their police statements that they could not remember the face of the assailant. Dock identification was permitted—a practice that Stephen Jacobi says was outlawed 50 years ago in the UK. The prison governor produced a prejudiced statement in court, but it was not questioned by the defence, and there were major queries concerning the identity parade and pre-trial publicity.

Moreover, witness accounts differed. People in the bar said that they had not seen the whole incident, but all of them claimed that a stone had been clutched to the assailant's chest before being dropped on Martin Georgiev. People outside the bar saw more of the incident, and said that the stone had been brought down from above the assailant's head.

Another problem has to do with the new witness, Mr. A. His eye-witness evidence has been notarised and legalised, and he has stated that he is absolutely certain that the perpetrator was not Michael Shields. When he returned to the scene of the crime the following morning, a witness whom he had seen the night before told him that he and at least another 10 people would testify that the perpetrator was


 
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Mr. A. therefore felt assured that there were numerous witnesses, and so did not offer evidence himself. However, those same bar witnesses said in court that the fair-haired Michael Shields was the guilty party. Mr. A. has now come forward and given a legalised and notarised statement, and is willing to testify in Bulgaria.

Mr. Steen: It may help the hon. Lady to know that three members of the European Scrutiny Committee are in the Chamber today, and that I am due to visit Bulgaria in about 10 days. If she will furnish me with further information, I should be pleased to take the matter up with the Bulgarian authorities.

Mrs. Ellman: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and shall certainly take up his very kind offer.

I am concerned that the ECHR could be infringed by the court's bizarre failure to question Graham Sankey following his confession. The court's rejection of that confession, with no questioning of Mr. Sankey, is inexplicable. It is inconsistent with the actions of the Bulgarian authority in attempting to question Graham Sankey before that confession was made.

I am deeply disturbed by the wrong information that has been recorded in the Bulgarian official record of judicial proceedings. The official statement entitled, "Reason for the Judgement" dated 10 November 2005 states that Graham Sankey

The facts are very different. The facts, as authenticated by our Home Office, are that the Bulgarian authorities issued a summons for Graham Sankey incorrectly. The summons arrived at the Home Office on 11 July, giving the United Kingdom central authority nine days rather than the required six weeks to serve it. The UK authority did not attempt to serve the summons, so the Bulgarians tried to speak to Graham Sankey before he made the confession. They handled that wrongly. Their record of what happened is factually incorrect yet, when he made the confession, the Bulgarians did not attempt to question him. As the matter is under Bulgarian jurisdiction, it is entirely a matter for the Bulgarians. They can, of course, ask the United Kingdom police to inquire on their behalf, but they have failed to do so.

I am also extremely concerned to see contradictory information in official reports from Bulgarian judicial authorities in reference to this case. The indictment issued by the Varna prosecutor's office stated:

Yet the official statement entitled, "Reasons for the Judgement Returned" relating to Michael Shields's failed appeal issued on 10 November 2005 said:

Those are two contradictory statements made by official judicial bodies in Bulgaria referring to this case. I find that of added concern.

The details that I have given are examples of a large number of concerns about Michael Shields' situation. I have given them because I believe that they underline the
 
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European Commission's concerns about the readiness or otherwise of the Bulgarians to become members of the EU. I am extremely concerned about my constituent Michael Shields. His family are devastated. They are campaigning strongly for justice and I will continue to stand with them until we receive it.

I have referred to this matter in this Committee because it is relevant to Bulgaria's joining the EU. The EU monitoring has drawn attention to the deficiencies in the Bulgarian judicial system, including accountability, openness and the pre-trial phase. The illustrations from Michael Shields's case demonstrate that principle in a clear way, and I am extremely concerned. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to reject Bulgaria's accession pending further investigation of this unacceptable situation and to enable consideration to take place of whether it is indicative of the wider concerns expressed by the Commission on Bulgaria's judicial processes. This is a matter of justice for Michael Shields, but it is also about the suitability and readiness of Bulgaria to become a member of the EU in January 2007.

1.15 pm


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