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Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that at the British Museum meeting this Tuesday a list of the items stolen from the Iraq Museum was produced and that there can now be no question but that any trader knowingly selling anything on the list will be blatantly selling an item that is known to be stolen? It is now very clear that the main objects on the list of stolen items are on all the websites around the world.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am, indeed, aware that such a list was produced because my noble friend was kind enough to furnish me with a copy before we entered the Chamber today. However, I should point out to your Lordships that, at the beginning of the month, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State at the DCMS wrote to the British Art Market Federation and the Antiquities Dealers Association to ask for their assistance in locating and identifying looted material, should it arrive in the United Kingdom. She has also written to John Healey, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, asking him to ensure that Customs officers are alerted at all ports of entry into the United Kingdom so that they, too, are aware of the particular goods that are of very great concern. I know that there are very many, but this list will also be conveyed to them.
It gives me great pleasure to bring forward a worthwhile and necessary Bill which will modernise and improve our extradition arrangements. I hope that none of your Lordships will seek to defend our present extradition system. Under that system, fugitives are able to raise one legal challenge after another, often on the very same point, as a means of delaying and frustrating the extradition process. As a result, it takes, on average, 18 months in a contested case to extradite someone from Britain, and certain notorious cases have gone on for five years or more.
Perhaps I may give a real life, if anonymous, example. Mr R was wanted by the French for trafficking in cannabis. It was alleged that he had assisted his father in importing some 531 kilograms of cannabis resin, worth approximately £1.3 million, into the United Kingdom. He was arrested in the UK in November 1995. He appealed against his extradition no less than five times and attempted to delay his extradition on health grounds just before his actual surrender. Mr R was finally extradited to France in September 2001nearly six years after his arrestand was sentenced in November 2001 to four years' imprisonment and fined 45,000 euros. The costs of detention alone in this case exceeded £120,000, while we estimate that the court and legal costs were in excess of £30,000.
Delays of that kind do enormous harm to justice. They cost the British taxpayer large amounts of money in court costs, legal aid fees and prison costs. They harm our international standing, as we have the unwelcome reputation of having the most cumbersome and convoluted extradition procedures. And, most of all, they harm the interests of the victims of crime and of justice generally. The old maxim "justice delayed is justice denied" applies every bit as much to extradition as to any other part of the criminal justice system.
Perhaps I may say a few words about the history of the Bill. The Government first announced their intention to review our extradition laws in 1999 and a consultation paper was published in March 2001. The House will note that that was a full six months before 11th September 2001. After those terrible events, the European Union accelerated its negotiations on the European arrest warrant. It is worth noting that many of the features of the European arrest warrant are modelled on what appeared in the UK's consultation paper of March 2001.
The framework decision on the European arrest warrant was agreed on 13th June 2002. Again, that was after the framework decision had properly cleared scrutiny in both your Lordships' House and another place in the approved way. We published the draft Bill for consultation in June 2002. We are very grateful to all those who took the trouble to respond and comment on it. We amended the Bill before it was introduced to take account of many of those comments. We also made significant amendments to the Bill at Report stage in another place to take account of points that had been raised earlier during its passage. Therefore, I hope that no one will accuse us of a lack of openness or of failing to listen.
With that preamble, I turn to the specific measures in the Bill. Part 1 is concerned with our extradition relations with other EU countries and gives effect to the European arrest warrant. It may be helpful if I describe the procedures that will operate and, in doing so, try to set at rest some of the anxieties or alarms that have been expressed.
European arrest warrants will generally be transmitted using the Schengen Information System. This is a secure computer system, so we can be sure that the request has come from a bona fide source. Once requests have been received, the UK's designated authority, which will be NCIS or the Crown Office in Scotland, will check that they contain all the necessary information, such as details of the offence, when it was committed and the punishment that may be imposed in respect of it.
The warrant will also have to be accompanied by a statement that, in accusation casescases where the person has not been convictedthe warrant has been issued for the purpose of putting the person on trial. That is important because there have been suggestions that EAWsI shall use that shorthand formwill be used to bring people back for interrogation or evidence-gathering. In fact, the reverse is true. Our current legislation simply requires a person to be "accused of" of a crime. The Bill, for the first time, makes it clear that extradition to another EU country will be possible only for the purpose of putting a person on trial.
Similarly, in conviction casescases where the person has already been convictedthere must be a statement that the person is wanted so that he can serve the prison sentence which the court has imposed. Once the extradition request has been certified by the UK authority, the person can be arrested.
In another place, we took the opportunity to amend the Bill to put beyond doubt what had always been our intentionthat such arrests can be carried out only by UK law enforcement personnel. That gives the lie to accusations that foreign police officers will be entering our country and knocking on doors to seek arrests. That is not the case.
Once the person has been arrested, he must be brought as soon as practicable before a UK judge, who will decide both whether the person before him is the person whose extradition has been soughtif it is not the right person, he will be releasedand whether he should be granted bail or remanded in custody. On that point, it is worth noting that, for the first time, the Bill creates a presumption in favour of bail in extradition cases.
The initial hearing is followed shortly by the main extradition hearingagain, before a UK judge, who is required to consider whether any of the statutory bars to extradition apply. Again, I am at a loss to know how those who have claimed that under an EAW the extradition process takes place with no legal proceedings in this country can support their argument.
Secondly, no one can be extradited if extradition would breach their ECHR rights. That is made explicit on the face of the Bill and is an important safeguard. Thirdly, no one can be extradited if their mental or physical condition would make extradition unjust or oppressive.
One thing that the court will not be required to do is to examine the case against the person. I would not expect there to be any complaints about that from the Official Opposition since it was in 1991 that the UK removed the requirement to provide prima facie evidence from EU countries and, indeed, from all Council of Europe countries. I am not aware of there having been any significant accusations that that has led to major problems of process.
Following the hearing, there is a right of appeal to the High Court, and cases where important points of law have been raised can go to the House of Lords. That adds up to a significant package of safeguards.
I think I should say something about the issue of dual criminality, since I am sure we will have many discussions on that in Committee. First, the Bill makes it perfectly clear that the partial removal of dual criminality applies only in cases where the conduct occurs in the requesting state. Where the conduct in question occurs outside the requesting state, the dual criminality rule applies. So no one will be extradited for conduct which occurs here in the UK and is not contrary to UK law. Suggestions that people will be extradited for writing a Sun editorial or reading a "Biggles" book might be exciting but simply are not true.
However, if a person goes to another EU country and breaks its law while there, he should expect to face justice. The fact that the UK happens not to have an exact equivalent offence should not excuse him. If a person breaks the law while in France and is arrested there and then, no one would think that unreasonable. There is no reason why such a person should be able to avoid justice simply because he has been able to cross the border before the police can reach him. The reverse side of that is that if a French person comes here, we expect him to obey our law. We would not accept the excuse that the conduct in question happened not be against the law in France. That has to cut both ways.
So the Bill removes the dual criminality requirement for offences which fall within the 32 generic offence categories. This, again, is a point I need to stress. The list of 32 comprises offence categories, not individual offences. So while it is true, as has been commented on repeatedly, that the UK has no specific offence of racism and xenophobia, we have plenty of offences
Therefore, very real benefits flow to the UK from the partial abolition of dual criminality. Not every EU country has an offence of incitement to racial hatred. Not every EU country has an offence of fraudulent trading. As long as we retain an absolute dual criminality rule, people can come to the UK and commit these serious offences with impunity provided they can cross the frontier quickly without being apprehended. That is not justice.
As I am on the subject of the benefits of the European arrest warrant, it may be helpful if I set out more of them. The most obvious is speed: we estimate that a normal EAW case in this country will take about three months, whereas the average contested case is 18 months. But this, too, works both ways. Other EU countries will be obliged to return those accused of crimes in Britain more quickly.
Noble Lords may have seen the recent press reports about the case of Trevor Masters. Mr Masters fled from Britain during the course of his trial. He was subsequently convicted of indecent assault, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and rape. We made a request to France for his return to serve the 12-year sentence which the court had imposed. We might have thought this is a very straightforward case as the person had already been convicted of very serious offences. In fact, it took us two years to get him back. We can only imagine the added anguish that was caused to his victims during this period. In future, thanks to the EAW, France, too, will be seeking to ensure that all cases take no more than three months.
There are other benefits to the UK flowing from the European arrest warrant. Some EU countriesfor example, France, Germany, Denmark and Greecehave traditionally refused to extradite their own nationals, much to the UK's frustration. In some cases, they will put the person on trial themselves, but, of course, they may not regard the crime with the same severity that we do. It also makes life much more difficult for victims and witnesses if they have to travel to a foreign country to seek to obtain justice for an offence that took place in our country. Again, that does not seem to me, in procedural terms, a situation that we should seek to defend. Therefore, it will for the first time be possible to try in this country people from France, Germany, Holland and other countries which have refused to extradite their nationals. I would expect the House to be strongly supportive of that change if we believe in justice for our citizens. That benefit has come to our country as a consequence of the European arrest warrant.
The UK has always believed that people should stand trial in the place where the crime was committed. That best serves the interests of justice and of those who have been wronged by the crime. By ending the ability of countries to refuse to extradite their own nationals, this Bill will help us to achieve that.
Some EU countries have refused to extradite for purely fiscal offences, to the intense annoyance of our responsible authorities. That has in the past allowed people who may have been guilty of major tax or Customs fraud to live with impunity on the costa del crime. In future, no EU country will be able to refuse to extradite for fiscal offences. This is a further specific benefit of the European arrest warrant and, again, I would find it hard to believe that the House did not think that an important benefit.
Some countries have refused to extradite when their statute of limitations has expired, even though we could perfectly well put the person on trial. There is a particular case of a paedophile who has escaped justice in Denmark because of this. That loophole, too, will be removed by the EAW.
Part 2 of the Bill is concerned with extradition from the UK to the rest of the world outside the EU. In many ways, the procedures are more akin to what we have at the moment with both the courts and Ministers having a role. However, the important distinction is that there will be just a single court process at which all the bars to extradition will be considered. The case will then pass to the Secretary of State to consider whether a limited range of factors which would preclude extradition apply. Any appeal which the fugitive wants to bring is heard, by the High Court, at the very end of this process and at that appeal all the decisions that have been taken up to that point can be considered. There is also a right of appeal to the House of Lords in cases where there are important points of law. This system both fully safeguards the rights of fugitives while eliminating the duplication and delay that plague the present system. We estimate that, under the Bill, a normal Part 2 case will take about six months from start to finish.
Part 3 is concerned with outgoing extradition requests; that is, the requests which the UK makes to another country for the return of someone to the UK to stand trial. Our existing extradition law is largely silent on this point as we rely on Ministers making requests under the royal prerogative. However, Ministers will have no involvement in EAW cases, so we have taken this opportunity to spell out the procedure for making outgoing requests to other EU countries.
Something similar lies behind Part 4 of the Bill which sets out the powers of the police in extradition cases. It had always been thought that the police could use the powers set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 in extradition cases, but a court ruling in the case of Rottman cast doubt on that. That case is subject to further appeals so I will not say more about it. However, the Government took the view that the most sensible course was to set out definitively in statute the powers available to the police in extradition cases and that is what Part 4 does.
It may reassure your Lordships if I say that Part 4 is very closely modelled on the provisions of PACE and that, as with PACE, there is a requirement to produce a code of practice which must be published in draft.
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