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Session 2006 - 07
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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations) Order 2006



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Hywel Williams
Allen, Mr. Graham (Nottingham, North) (Lab)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H. (Central Ayrshire) (Lab)
Etherington, Bill (Sunderland, North) (Lab)
Fabricant, Michael (Lichfield) (Con)
Featherstone, Lynne (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD)
Garnier, Mr. Edward (Harborough) (Con)
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)
Hunter, Mark (Cheadle) (LD)
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)
Marsden, Mr. Gordon (Blackpool, South) (Lab)
Ryan, Joan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Scott, Mr. Lee (Ilford, North) (Con)
Smith, Mr. Andrew (Oxford, East) (Lab)
Spink, Bob (Castle Point) (Con)
Stanley, Sir John (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)
Todd, Mr. Mark (South Derbyshire) (Lab)
Geoffrey Farrar, David Weir, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Eleventh Delegated Legislation Committee

Thursday 7 December 2006

[Hywel Williams in the Chair]

Draft Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations) Order 2006

8.55 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations) Order 2006.
The Committee is today concerned with the further secondary legislation 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. The order reflects the separation of Serbia and Montenegro into two independent states, the accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the European convention on extradition, and it will allow Romania and Bulgaria to operate the European arrest warrant procedure when they accede to the European Union on 1 January 2007. The amendments are necessary to ensure that the United Kingdom complies with its obligations under the relevant international extradition agreements.
A referendum was held in Montenegro on 21 May 2006 and its citizens voted to separate from the state of Serbia and Montenegro. Montenegro subsequently declared its independence in June so Serbia and Montenegro are now separate countries. The order reflects the new political status of the two countries. Extradition will continue to take place under the European convention on extradition, to which both countries are party.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is also now party to the European convention on extradition and an amendment to previous orders is required to update our extradition arrangements with that country, which currently fall under an old bilateral extradition treaty with Yugoslavia. That treaty required prima facie evidence in support of an extradition request, which is not a requirement under the European convention on extradition. The order therefore amends the designation of Bosnia and Herzegovina so that we comply with the terms of the European convention on extradition. Bosnia and Herzegovina will no longer be required to submit prima facie evidence in support of its extradition requests, in the same way that the UK is not required to submit such evidence in extradition requests made to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Committee will be aware that Romania and Bulgaria will accede to the European Union on 1 January 2007. From that date, EU extraditions with those states will cease to take place under the European convention on extradition and will fall under the European arrest warrant procedure. It is therefore necessary to redesignate the countries as part 1 territories to ensure that we comply with our obligations under the framework decision on the European arrest warrant.
The decision on the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union was not taken lightly. The European Council and the Commission monitored both countries carefully to ensure that they were ready to accede to the European Union. The European Council could have used powers contained in the accession treaty to delay accession until 2008, but the Commission report of 26 September 2006 did not recommend a delay and accession will go ahead as planned.
I repeat the decision has not been taken lightly. Bulgaria and Romania have made significant progress on the reform and modernisation of their judicial systems. Additionally, important safeguards are built into the accession treaty and the Commission will take action pursuant to the justice and home affairs safeguard provision. Robust benchmarks for progress on justice and home affairs have been set for both countries. The benchmarks cover continued reform of the judiciary, including measures to enhance efficiency, transparency and accountability. The Commission will monitor the countries closely, and will report to the European Council and the European Parliament by June 2007 on the progress that the countries have made against the benchmarks.
In the event that the benchmarks are not adequately addressed, the Commission can trigger the justice and home affairs safeguard and temporarily suspend specific rights of Bulgaria and Romania under EU laws and standards. For example, current member states could refuse the automatic recognition and enforcement of certain civil and criminal judgments and arrest warrants in either country, including the European arrest warrant. The monitoring mechanism, therefore, is a tough and unprecedented approach that will also act as a powerful lever for further reform.
Failure to redesignate Bulgaria and Romania would place the UK directly in breach of its international obligations under the framework decision on the European arrest warrant. We have had extradition relations with Bulgaria and Romania since they became parties to the European convention on extradition in September 1995 and December 1997 respectively. Since then, they have not had to provide prima facie evidence in support of extradition requests made to the UK. Although the number of extradition requests has been small, the system is working well.
I am satisfied that sufficient safeguards are in place for those who may find themselves the subject of a European arrest warrant request from Bulgaria or Romania, as indeed they are in the case of any request from an extradition partner. The Extradition Act 2003 contains a number of very effective safeguards. For example, the subject of a European arrest warrant cannot be surrendered to another member state if it appears that he or she is being prosecuted or punished on account of race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or political opinions. Extradition would also be barred if the judge decided that it would not be compatible with human rights. No UK national—nor indeed a national of any country—would be extradited to another country if it was believed that extradition would be a flagrant breach of the human rights of the person sought. In the event that a UK national was extradited to another country, they would be entitled to consular support from the UK's embassy or high commission in the country concerned.
Romania and Bulgaria themselves are also parties to the European convention on human rights, which means that they are obliged to ensure that any subsequent domestic criminal trials do not breach a person's human rights under the ECHR. I hope that, with that explanation, the Committee will support the order.
9.2 am
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): May I welcome you, Mr. Williams, to our deliberations this morning? The Minister has given a helpful explanation of her case, which has removed the need for a lengthy debate. I have one or two questions, however. First, what study has she made of the arrangements that Bulgaria and Romania have put in place to ensure that our citizens are safeguarded against unfair trials and prosecutions? Secondly, what would be the role of the House and Parliament as a whole were the European Union to suspend those two countries in the way that she indicated? Subject to satisfactory answers to those questions, the Opposition are content to support the measure.
9.3 am
Joan Ryan: I thank the hon. and learned Member for Harborough for his support. On his question regarding studies of arrangements in Bulgaria and Romania, he will know that the Government have been working closely with the two countries in recent years. That co-operation has stepped up significantly over recent months. Operatives from the Serious Organised Crime Agency are working in both countries, and Government officials and law officers have liaised closely with the Bulgarian and Romanian judiciaries. We have made great efforts to assist Bulgaria and Romania to bring their judicial practices up to the standard that we believe is required, and to increase transparency.
On the second question, if concern led to the suspension of the European arrest warrant and if the monitoring mechanism was triggered, we would return to extradition requests being processed through the Minister’s office. The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that, although I am the Minister responsible for extradition, in the case of the European arrest warrant I do not actually see extradition requests. When an extradition decision is made in court, the person concerned is extradited without the matter coming through my office as it would in the case of part 2 requests and I would not have to ascertain, for instance, whether anybody would face the death penalty. The structure of the European arrest warrant, the framework decision, and the fact that the countries concerned are all partner countries means that I do not deal with those matters. If the warrant was suspended, however, we would revert to the other process and there would be a ministerial role.
Mr. Garnier: That is interesting, but my question was about the role of Parliament.
Joan Ryan: Individual extradition requests would come to me. As for the country itself, a debate would always be possible. The scrutiny Committees in this House and the other place also have a role and I expect that the issue would come before them. I think that that covers both of the hon. and learned Gentleman’s questions. I commend the order to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,
That the Committee has considered the draft Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations) Order 2006.
Committee rose at seven minutes past Nine o’clock.
 
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