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Let me stress again that the Bill and any subsequent signing of a sentence enforcement agreement represent a contingency arrangement. Imprisonment in the United Kingdom would take place only if former President Taylor were convicted, if the Special Court requested that the United Kingdom imprison him, and if the United Kingdom agreed to do so. I should also stress that the Bill, and any sentence enforcement agreement
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signed as a result of its provisions, will not apply specifically to former President Taylor. The Bill does not, therefore, get into the territory of a hybrid Bill.

The Bill, which comprises only two clauses, simply establishes the legal basis under which the United Kingdom may sign a sentence enforcement agreement with the Special Court. None the less, I can confirm that the request that was made to us and the political undertaking that we have given relate only to imprisoning former President Taylor, should that be necessary. We have not received a request in respect of any other individual on trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Indeed, our expectation is that any other individuals convicted by the court will serve their sentences elsewhere.

To put the matter into context, there are, in total, 10 persons on trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone, although, as the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) will be aware, one of them has now died. The territorial extent of the Bill is limited to England and Wales. I should stress that that does not indicate any reluctance on behalf of the Scottish Administration, but simply an assessment that the necessary resources exist in England and Wales. It follows, therefore, that any sentence of imprisonment would be served in a prison in England or Wales.

I cannot say how long the trial of former President Taylor will last. The reality is that the wheels of international justice have so far turned relatively slowly. None the less, it is possible that the trial might come to a speedy conclusion. That is a factor beyond our control, but it could happen. Our objective is to ensure that, if we are called on to honour our commitment, we are ready to do so as soon as that becomes necessary.

The Bill is a further expression of the United Kingdom’s commitment to international justice. It is evidence of our determination to finish the job that we started in Sierra Leone, and it is a clear signal to those who would commit the most serious crimes known to humanity that justice will be done. I commend the Bill to the House.

2.3 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): I congratulate the Minister and his officials—especially Rob Luke in the Foreign Office—on the generous way in which they have been prepared to engage in discussions on the Bill before it came before the House. That has enabled it to pass through all its stages on the Floor of the House this afternoon, which represents exceptionally good use of the House’s time. This is a very good way of disposing of an uncontentious matter and I can confirm that the official Opposition will not oppose the Bill, which has a great deal of merit.

The Minister’s colleague in the House of Lords, Lord Triesman, opened the Bill’s Second Reading debate in the other place on 1 May. He said:

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That is a pretty shocking but accurate description of what went on in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s. Fortunately, the successful military intervention in May 2000 by 800 of our excellent paratroopers brought peace to the country. It secured the airport, enabled British citizens to be evacuated and subsequently ensured that the rebels were rounded up. The Bill that we are considering today is a result of those activities.

However, Sierra Leone has a history of war and the peace there is fragile; that situation will pertain for some considerable time to come. In 2002, the Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations set up the Special Court for Sierra Leone so that war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and genocide could be punished if proven. As the Minister has said, the Special Court is an international criminal tribunal of a hybrid nature, incorporating domestic and international law. It has Sierra Leonean judges and staff sitting alongside international colleagues. The creation of the Special Court will no doubt send a strong message to those who have committed such crimes, or who might be contemplating doing so in the future. Examples that have already been mentioned include crimes involving the resistance army in Uganda, and crimes committed in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia or anywhere else in the world. As a result of this procedure and of the indictment of Charles Taylor and his fellow indictees, people who would come under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court might think twice before committing such dreadful and despicable crimes.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) said, the Special Court made the unique judgment in 2004 that Charles Taylor was not immune from prosecution by virtue of being a former head of state. That is the first time that that has happened. When the International Criminal Court Act 2001 was passed by this House, however, these crimes, although known about, had not been brought before the International Criminal Court. It was therefore not possible for the Act to incorporate the court, as it did in the case of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Two possible special hybrid courts exist at the moment, in Cambodia and in Sierra Leone.

The International Criminal Court Act 2001 needs to be amended because it does not cover these particular circumstances. I should make clear two absolute caveats, however. The Minister said that there were 10 detainees, but I believe that the figure is 11: the former Liberian President Charles Taylor and nine others, plus one who is missing and presumed dead. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that that is the case. Will he also confirm that while Charles Taylor is standing trial in The Hague, three parallel courts are each trying three people in Freetown in Sierra Leone?

Dr. Howells: I take it that the person who died, to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, is Samuel Hinga Norman. An autopsy has confirmed that Mr. Norman died of natural causes. The court has undertaken its own inquiry into the matter. I understand that he had been transferred to Senegal for medical treatment while on trial before the court. I should reiterate that we have full confidence in the court and its procedures, including the inquiry into the Norman death.

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Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention. I was in no way casting aspersions on the proceedings of the Special Court; I was merely trying to put on the record what I believe to be the correct number of indictees.

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): First, I want to confirm that the hon. Gentleman’s understanding is accurate. Secondly, I want to reinforce for the record what my hon. Friend the Minister of State has said. I have visited the special court on no fewer than four occasions, and I can confirm that its medical facilities, which service those men, are the best in the country.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s intervention. Some concerns have been expressed about the conditions in which former President Charles Taylor has been held. Notably, in the other place, Lord Avebury mentioned the issue of a camera in his cell. I think that that matter has been resolved.

The other nine indictees, if convicted, could be dealt with under the provisions of this amending Bill. As the Minister has kindly put on the record, the Government intend only Charles Taylor to come under its provisions, although there is no reason why the other nine could not be considered on a special request from the Special Court. It would then be up to the UK Government to consider that request. Only if they considered and agreed it would they sign a special enforcement provision to that effect.

Tony Baldry: One of the unacceptable aspects of all this is the ad hocery of international justice in which the burdens fall randomly. Norway said long ago that it would be willing to take and imprison a number of those at the Special Court, if convicted. Understandably, however, it was not also willing to accept the burden of imprisoning Charles Taylor, were he convicted. The international community cannot continue in this ad hoc way for ever, whereby the UN must scrabble around to find which country is willing to imprison which person. I am not sure which departmental spending budget would cover such activity. Does it qualify as Department for International Development or Foreign Office spending?

Dr. Howells: Home Office.

Tony Baldry: The Minister says from a sedentary position that it would be the Home Office. That is one of the broader issues that the House must address.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that 104 countries ratified the ICC legislation in 2002. Therefore, as I understand it, any one of those 104 countries could be called on to carry out the prison enforcement agreements. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury—who is a lawyer—will have picked up, the problem in this case is that the court is a special, hybrid one, so it is not covered by the ICC Act. Had it been covered by that Act, we would not be here today, as we would not need to pass an amending Act.

The Minister will confirm that only two hybrid Special Courts are in existence—that for Cambodia, and that for Sierra Leone. Perhaps he will also confirm that the UK has no intention whatever of taking any
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prisoners from the Cambodian special court, as that would require another amending Act. Other than in the case of those two special courts, this type of amending legislation should not be needed in the future, unless something unforeseen arises.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury is right that a greater understanding is perhaps necessary among those 104 countries that any one of them could be asked to carry out not only the imprisonment obligations, but even the trial obligations. Although I agree with the Minister that it is desirable on the whole for the trial to take place in the country in which the atrocities have been committed, an adjoining or third country might be required to carry out a trial in certain circumstances. In this case, the facilities of the International Court of Justice in The Hague were deemed by the United Nations and others to be ideal for the trial.

Dr. Howells: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. His hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) put his finger on a very important issue. When asking why we are taking prisoners from Sierra Leone, I have heard the terrible phrase used, “Well, it is our sphere of influence.” Whose sphere of influence is Cambodia? Which nations have the resources and the political will? I heard the hon. Member for Banbury say that countries may be signed up, but they will not act. We must get clarity on who is responsible for such trials in whatever part of the world.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The whole House will have heard the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend, in his customary way, will wish to pursue the matter on another occasion,

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I concur with the view that the countries that have signed the agreement should take their fair share of the responsibility for housing such criminals, but the reality is that the facilities available in different countries vary enormously. They range from buildings that would easily be overcome by those who were intent on freeing individuals, to prisons such as those in the UK, which it is out of the question that anyone could break into or out of. On the basis of the construction and security of facilities, quite a small number of countries would be eligible.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. When the Special Court or the International Criminal Court has sentenced somebody for such a hideous crime, and asks an individual country to sign an imprisonment enforcement agreement, I assume that it will take precisely those facts into account. We shall no doubt come on to the conditions under which Charles Taylor, were he convicted, might be held in this country, and in what sort of prison.

The first caveat is that Charles Taylor could be considered along with others, so the Bill will not become hybrid. The second caveat is that the Bill is making only a hypothetical provision in the event that Charles Taylor and his fellow accused are convicted.
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Nothing that we say in the House today should presume that they will be convicted, and therefore prejudice their trial.

With regard to the time line, the current indictment relates to events as far back as 30 November 1996, but was not envisaged when the ICC Act 2001 was enacted. Charles Taylor and his fellow indictees face 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. On 29 March 2006, Charles Taylor was arrested and transferred to the detention facility in Freetown, Sierra Leone. As the Minister said, there were security concerns as it was felt that his supporters might destabilise Sierra Leone or the region. He was then transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. On 15 June 2006, the Foreign Secretary made a written statement to Parliament that the UK would, under legislation that we are considering today, permit Charles Taylor to serve a sentence, if it was passed by the court. On 20 June 2006, he was transferred to The Hague, as authorised by the president of the Special Court and confirmed by United Nations Security Council resolution 1688, as the Minister mentioned. On 4 June 2007, the trial in The Hague opened.

There have been various reports about the trial, and I would ask the Minister to clarify one or two matters. It has been alleged in the media that Charles Taylor’s defence counsel has funding for only six months, whereas the prosecution counsel has funding for 10 months. Can the Minister confirm that there is adequate funding for both prosecution and defence? The Minister said that he could not envisage how long the proceedings would take, but the special adviser on the case has said that they may take until the middle of 2009, or until the end of 2009 if it goes to appeal. Can the Minister give us any more information?

According to the Government’s regulatory impact assessment, the cost of imprisonment in a high-security prison in 2005-06 was about £44,000, and according to today’s edition of The Daily Telegraph Milan Martic, the former rebel Croatian Serb leader convicted of atrocities against Croat civilians, was sentenced by the International Criminal Court to 35 years in prison. Can the Minister confirm that in the hypothetical event of Charles Taylor being sentenced to a fixed term of about the same period, it would cost this country something in the region of £1.5 million? That is not an insignificant sum. I should be grateful if the Minister would put it on the record—my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, with great perspicacity, was trying to establish this—that the cost would be borne by the Home Office and not by the Foreign Office.

Does the Minister accept that it is essential, in terms of human justice, for the trial not to take too long? Mention has been made today of Sam Hinga Norman, who died at the end of a four-year trial. Four years strikes me as a very long time for a trial to last, even in international criminal law.

Does the Minister agree with the assessment of the independent expert and judge Antonio Cassese that although the verdict on the other indictees in Sierra Leone could be delivered in 2008, the verdict on Charles Taylor is likely to be delivered a year later, in mid-2009, with an appeal extending the period to the end of 2009? I have already asked the Minister about funding. I believe that he said that Britain had given £2.5 million to the International Criminal Court
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mechanism. Will some of that money be spent, if necessary, on filling the shortfall between the funds for the prosecution and those for the defence?

In the event of a conviction, the Special Court would ask the United Kingdom to enter into a prison enforcement agreement. No doubt there would be discussions with the Foreign Office and the Home Office. At that point, and only at that point, if the United Kingdom agreed the Bill would come into force. Can the Minister confirm that it will be for the Special Court to determine whether Charles Taylor is imprisoned in a high-security prison initially and then in a lower-security prison, and that the questions of an appeal and early release will also be matters for the Special Court? How will the court’s residuary functions be fulfilled? Will there be an ad hoc panel of judges and supporters to be reconvened as necessary when issues arise?

Can the Minister confirm specifically that in the hypothetical event of Charles Taylor requesting asylum here at the end of his prison term, the United Kingdom would consider his application on its merits, but would observe the absolute provision in asylum law that the United Kingdom can deport a non-UK citizen who is convicted of war crimes or crimes against humanity?

I thank the Minister for the way in which he has handled this matter. We have covered a great deal of ground today and I have no doubt that the proceedings in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading will be succinct. I do not expect that we will have to detain the House today for the full six hours so generously allowed by the timetable motion. That would take us to nearly 7.45 pm, well after the seven o’clock motion, and I do not intend to detain you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or hon. Members for that length of time.

2.25 pm

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): I have the pleasure of being chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on the west African Mano river region, which includes Sierra Leone as well as Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea-Bissau. I have fulfilled the role for the past two years, and it is not a particularly easy one, because not many people are interested in that part of the world. It is a very poor part of the world, there is not an awful lot of oil about, and in my opinion it is dreadfully neglected.

My involvement with Sierra Leone began when I was invited to be part of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation at the behest of Mr. Win Griffiths, the former Member of Parliament for Bridgend. He took me to Sierra Leone shortly after the British Army brought the rebels to their knees in the centre of Freetown. It was a difficult visit for me to undertake: I knew nothing about Sierra Leone, and was as guilty of neglect and lack of interest as—I suspect—were my colleagues. Some people find it necessary to go to a place to appreciate it properly, and I am afraid that I am one of those people. I suppose it is a sad commentary on myself.

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