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Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates

First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation




 
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First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman:

†Mrs. Joan Humble

†Bailey, Mr. Adrian (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op)
†Burnham, Andy (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
†Carmichael, Mr. Alistair (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
Clappison, Mr. James (Hertsmere) (Con)
†Duddridge, James (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con)
†Grieve, Mr. Dominic (Beaconsfield) (Con)
†McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
†Mahmood, Mr. Khalid (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)
†Meale, Mr. Alan (Mansfield) (Lab)
†Murphy, Mr. Denis (Wansbeck) (Lab)
Oaten, Mr. Mark (Winchester) (LD)
Prisk, Mr. Mark (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)
†Ryan, Joan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury)
†Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab)
†Spellar, Mr. John (Warley) (Lab)
Streeter, Mr. Gary (South-West Devon) (Con)
Nerys Welfoot, Committee Clerk
†attended the Committee


 
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Monday 18 July 2005

[Mrs. Joan Humble in the Chair]

Draft Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations) (No. 2) Order 2005

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations) (No. 2) Order 2005.

For my first Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation as a Minister, it is reassuring to see a friendly north-west face in the Chair, Mrs. Humble. I hope that you will help me along my way.

I assure the Committee that I shall be brief because the order is not contentious, nor does it contain anything that should trouble Opposition Members. As members of the Committee are aware, the Extradition Act 2003 received Royal Assent on 20 November 2003. The Bill underwent intense scrutiny in this House and in another place and the Act remains under close scrutiny today, even though it was passed some time ago. I do not propose today to set out any arguments of principle about why the legislation was enacted: the Committee’s concern is the further secondary legislation that is required to amend the Extradition Act 2003 (Designation of Part 1 Territories) Order 2003 and the Extradition Act 2003 (Designation of Part 2 Territories) Order 2003. They are to be amended to include Italy in the part 1 order, now that Italy has transposed the framework decision on the European arrest warrant into its national law.

As the Committee will know, Italy is the last remaining European Union member state to have implemented the necessary domestic legislation to allow it to operate the European arrest warrant. All European Union member states are signatories to the European convention on human rights and previously we had extradition relations with them under the European convention on extradition. The United Kingdom has been operating the European arrest warrant since 1 January 2004 and I am pleased to report to members of the Committee that the new procedure is working well.

I shall inform the Committee of the facts and figures to date. From the introduction of the European arrest warrant procedure on 1 January 2004 to 30 June this year 110 people have been arrested in the United Kingdom on European arrest warrants issued by other member states. In the other member states, 58 people have been arrested on European arrest warrants issued by the United Kingdom. We have surrendered 59 requested people to other member states and 42 people have been returned to the United Kingdom under the new procedure. Currently, subjects of straightforward European arrest warrant requests are being extradited
 
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in both directions on average within three to four weeks of the person being arrested on a European arrest warrant. Members of the Committee will know that that was a key reason behind the introduction of the system.

Let me illustrate the effectiveness of the European arrest warrant process. The National Criminal Intelligence Service received a request for a Romanian national who was wanted by the German authorities for a series of armed robberies of jewellery stores and banks in Leipzig in 1996. His accomplice had been convicted, but the subject of the arrest warrant had escaped and was sought internationally. On 24 March 2005, he was stopped at Gatwick airport by members of the immigration service, who had discovered Interpol’s interest in him through their systems. He was provisionally arrested under section 5 of the 2003 Act by the Metropolitan police and produced before an appropriate judge within 48 hours of his arrest. He was surrendered to the German authorities on 14 April to face trial for the robberies.

Turning to requests issued by the United Kingdom, following a seizure at Dover of £19 million worth of heroin, cocaine and cannabis our authorities identified a person as being involved in drug importation. Subsequent investigations showed that the person played a pivotal role in several importations by transporting the drugs using the haulage company that he owned. He pleaded guilty in court, admitting involvement in at least nine separate importations, and was bailed awaiting sentencing while the trial of his co-conspirators continued. The man then absconded to Cyprus, but was arrested in August last year under the European convention on extradition. Cypriot courts initially refused the extradition request on a technicality, but Cyprus was designated a category 1 country on 27 July 2004 and a European arrest warrant was issued for that individual on 4 November. Within a week he had been arrested, and despite vigorously contesting the arrest warrant in a series of appeals, he was returned to the UK on 21 January 2005. He was subsequently sentenced to two terms in prison—one of eight and a half years and one of four years—for conspiracy to import class A and class B drugs respectively. Following a Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 hearing, a confiscation order for £339,000 was made in May this year. That, as I think Committee members will agree, illustrates that the European arrest warrant is proving a valuable tool in ensuring that fugitives do not evade justice.

Concerns have been raised, quite properly, about the rights of fugitives who are the subject of European arrest warrants. I assure the Committee that our courts do not simply rubber-stamp warrants issued by other member states and surrender individuals to those states without offering proper safeguards. To date, eight European arrest warrants have been refused by the UK courts. The reasons for refusal have varied: they include insufficient information in the warrant; the conduct listed in the warrant not meeting the definition of an extradition offence under the 2003 Act; the passage of time; and double jeopardy.


 
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I trust that the Committee will have no objections to this straightforward and simple order. Recent events have shown the need for an effective and simplified extradition process, but one that retains important safeguards to protect the individuals who may find themselves the subject of an extradition request. I stress again that the point of an extradition request is not to judge here whether someone is innocent or guilty; it is simply to allow those charges to be properly heard in court in the country where the offences were alleged to have been committed. It is simply a process under which people can be moved quickly and the legal and judicial processes can take their course.

I have outlined the purpose of the draft order, which is simply to bring Italy into line with the rest of the EU member states by designating it a category 1—or part 1—country. With that explanation, I hope that the Committee will agree to the draft order.

4.38 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Humble.

I reassure the Minister that I suspect that our proceedings will be brief. I have no objection to the order: I am pleased that the Italian Government have signed up to implementing the extradition warrant fully and of course I welcome the total reciprocity that is required for its operation. I therefore have no difficulty allowing the statutory instrument to pass.

The Minister has, rather helpfully, taken this opportunity to tell the Committee more about how the system is operating in practice, and I wonder whether I can draw him out a little further. He gave a figure for the total number of warrants sent to the United Kingdom and pointed out that, inevitably, not all of them have been executed. He mentioned that eight had been refused, and I dare say that others have simply proved not capable of being executed because the relevant people have not been identified, but let us consider in a little more detail the warrants that we have requested in relation to other European countries. Can the Minister tell the Committee how many of those have been refused? Can he tell us the grounds on which warrants that we have sent to participating European countries have been turned down? Were the reasons for refusal procedural, or does refusal indicate other outstanding problems with the operation of the system?

Can the Minister confirm that the system that we are operating in respect of our European partners is different from that which we operate in respect of other partners on a bilateral basis? Can the Minister give us any idea when one of those partners, the United States of America, will ratify its side of the treaty? That question might be ruled out of order, but I hope not.

4.40 pm

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Humble. This is my first opportunity to serve under your chairmanship, but our previous acquaintance across the House during fishing debates leads me to believe that it will be a pleasant experience. The Minister
 
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described you as a friendly face from the north-west; although I do not doubt the friendliness of your face, from the perspective of my constituency I do not understand the reference to the north-west.

I agree that the order is largely uncontentious. I served on the Standing Committee that dealt with the Extradition Bill, and also, I think, on the Committees that dealt with the three preceding orders, so I feel that I am in fairly familiar territory—if not in a “Groundhog Day” situation. It is important to remember that that Extradition Act 2003 and the Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003, which was dealt with in Parliament at about the same time, were important because they recognised the changed nature of international co-operation in the criminal sphere, as well as in the political, economic and commercial spheres. We would be wrong to allow the legal system to atrophy while the rest of the world moved on and to allow inequality of arms between criminals on the one hand and the member states on the other, so that everything else was able to pass smoothly from one European country to another, but not those who were suspected of committing serious crimes.

I was pleased by the Minister’s comments about the effectiveness of the Extradition Act 2003. The Committee that scrutinised it was fairly good-natured, but points of significant principle arose and assurances were sought about certain matters—such as that the courts should not act simply as rubber-stamping authorities. I am pleased that the Minister has said that the safeguards put in place during the course of the passage of the 2003 Bill have been effective.

The points made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) were interesting. I suspect that his question about America is not, strictly speaking, in order, but it is interesting, and if the Minister has the answer, I too would like to hear it.

4.43 pm

Andy Burnham: I am grateful to the hon. Members for Beaconsfield and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) for their comments and for their acceptance that the measures that have been put in place are generally working well.

Extradition used to be governed by legislation that could prove cumbersome—perhaps Members are familiar with the Extradition Act 1989—which could lead to a drawn-out process and lengthy delays before the individual concerned faced justice. It is in the interests of justice that people are returned as quickly as possible and that we have streamlined processes with our European partners that allow people to stand trial closer to the point at which they are alleged to have committed the acts in respect of which they are charged.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield asked what we know about UK warrants and how they have been treated in other countries. I gave him the relevant figures on that. I am led to believe that, so far, we have had a problem with only one warrant issued for the arrest of a UK national. Apparently, the problem was with the photograph included with the warrant; I do
 
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not have to hand precise details on why it was not accepted in the other country, but I will provide details to the hon. Gentleman if he is interested. That case shows that the process is working well. We need to get the facts and the figures right but, as things stand, there is only a small technical problem with one of the warrants.

As for the USA, the hon. Gentleman knows that there are full and adequate safeguards in the Extradition Act 2003 to ensure that all extraditions approved under the Act’s procedures are fair. Those safeguards apply regardless of the nationality of the person requested. Safeguards were put in place for the death penalty, which is relevant to our extradition relations with the USA.

There has been much press comment because the US has yet to ratify the 2003 treaty. Perhaps it will be useful to the Committee if I make it plain that, although that is true, the 1972 US-UK treaty remains in force. All of the safeguards required for extradition are contained in that treaty and they will remain in place until the 2003 treaty is fully ratified by the US. There should be no suggestion that people are being extradited to the US without adequate safeguards.

That said, the hon. Gentleman’s point on the ratification of the 2003 treaty is relevant. It is important for confidence in the extradition arrangements that there is no long delay before the treaty is ratified into US law. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be reassured to know that concerns have regularly been raised with American officials. There is a process to go through. The US political process is, obviously, different to our own and it is not for us to dictate a timetable, but we have made it clear
 
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that we would appreciate early ratification of the 2003 treaty. The fact that the treaty has not yet been ratified should not in any way lead to a general concern that people are being extradited from this country to the US without proper safeguards. The same principles apply on both sides. When the treaty is ratified, which we hope will happen soon, the process may become more streamlined and efficient.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland also asked about arrangements with the US, and I give him a similar assurance. Let us be honest: we are disappointed that the treaty has not yet been ratified, but it is important to stress that the Extradition Act 2003 was being prepared before the events of 11 September 2001. A process to modernise and streamline our extradition procedures was already underway, so we were in a position to move quickly after those events. Yes, we are disappointed and we have raised that with the US. It is generally accepted that efforts will be made to expedite the ratification process. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will keep a close watch on the issue and hope to see progress in the not-too-distant future.

I will detain you no longer, Mrs. Humble. I hope that I have given the Committee some reassurance on the points that hon. Members raised. The legitimate concerns that have been expressed about the US should not stand in the way of completing the set of arrangements from a European perspective and bringing Italy into the arrangements for a European arrest warrant.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations) (No. 2) Order 2005.

Committee rose at ten minutes to Five o’clock.

 
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