Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I would like to say a few words on Amendment No. 3 and the other amendments in this group. There are considerable

3 Jun 2003 : Column GC143

worries about the harmonisation of justice affairs throughout the European Union. Those fears have been enhanced and exacerbated by the discussions in the Convention on the Future of Europe. We have heard that there is a proposal for a European Union public prosecutor. If that is not moving us towards a new European judicial space and harmonisation of systems, I do not know what is.

There are concerns that Part 1 of the Bill is the thin end of the wedge and, as so often happens in the European Union, that we are proceeding by stealth to a position where there is a single area of judicial administration and that extradition will eventually not be necessary. We will all be subject to the same judicial arrangements and an EU public prosecutor will oversee simply everything. I know that sounds far-fetched, but many things which were first proposed and dismissed as imagination or nightmare have then come into law. That is why people like myself and an increasing number of others want to scrutinise every little bit of legislation that has anything to do with the European Union.

One is bound to be suspicious of this piece of legislation on another ground. Indeed, I think the Government deserve some credit for this—I hope they do. The European arrest warrant has, as the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, pointed out, been under discussion since 1999. It has been such a long time because our Government were a little concerned about some of the proposals coming forward. Then, suddenly, after 9/11, the matter was given a great impetus and we found we had a framework agreement. The impetus, according to discussions in the European Parliament, was a result of 9/11. One could have understood that an impetus relating only to terrorism might have been reasonable. However, it has resulted not only in issues of unlawful seizure of aircraft or ships or sabotage—included in the 32 items—but a whole schedule of crimes covering just about everything under the sun.

It seems that 9/11 and terrorism were used to extend the idea of a European arrest warrant and the scope of that warrant. I therefore think it is quite reasonable for the Opposition to put down a limiting amendment. If the amendment were carried, I think much of the opposition to the Bill would be lessened and we would not be so worried about it.

I am sorry to have taken up the time of the Committee but I think the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, should know how many people feel about the Bill. They do not like it; they are afraid of it. They believe that it has been rushed and that terrorism has been used to bring forward legislation that has not only an immediate but an ongoing purpose which will undermine the judicial protections in our own system that has protected our people for a long time.

Lord Goodhart: On the previous group of amendments, my party was in entire agreement with the Conservative Front Bench. On this issue, we are not. We welcome, in principle, the idea of the European arrest warrant. There is no doubt that the

3 Jun 2003 : Column GC144

existing procedures take far too long, and there is no reason to believe that, for example, multiple applications for judicial review serve the interests of justice. On the contrary, as the Minister said, it is delays which damage the interests of justice. Justice delayed is justice denied, and that is as true of the victims of crime as it is of parties to proceedings.

If we are satisfied that a person against whom extradition is claimed will get a fair trial in the requesting country, there is no reason why we should require that a kind of mini-trial take place before there can be extradition. Of course, that is a big "if". In many other member states of the EU, a person is as likely to get a fair trial on a criminal charge as in this country. We have a system of criminal justice of which we are rightly proud, but we are sometimes prone to regard it as being somehow superior to the systems in all other countries. That is simply not true.

Having said that, I admit that there are problems with some member states—for example, Greece, Portugal and, perhaps, Italy—especially on procedural issues. In some countries, there can be severe delays, and, in more than one, there are problems with access to effective free legal representation and interpretation facilities for those who cannot afford to pay for them. We hope that our amendments will go some way towards dealing with those problems.

The question of the framework list, which was raised, is entirely separate. It would be possible to have Part 1 with or without a framework list. No doubt, we can deal with questions relating to the framework list when we get to them.

I can see no justification for confining Part 1 to terrorist offences. If Part 1 is not suitable for people charged with other serious offences up to and including murder, it cannot be suitable for people who are charged with but not, at that stage, convicted of terrorist offences. They must be entitled to the same kind of defence against improper extradition as anyone else.

We do not and will not object in principle, and we cannot, therefore, support Amendment No. 3. We will come to the detail when we get to what we see as the necessary strengthening of the protections of individuals in Part 1.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, made an interesting and important contribution, albeit a brief one. He said that he did not agree with the thrust of the Conservative Party's arguments on the amendment. None the less, he made certain concessions in his argument that ought to be considered.

The amendment returns us to the points raised earlier and which I raised when I spoke on Amendment No. 1. I apologise for repeating the point, but we need to remind ourselves that a person who is extradited is placed at a disadvantage compared with a national. A person extradited to this country may be placed at a disadvantage compared with a British

3 Jun 2003 : Column GC145

citizen. They may not be familiar with the proceedings, and they may not understand them. In the absence of a Eurobail system and because of the fear of absconding, they are likely to be kept in custody, which will separate them from their family and, above all, may prevent them from preparing their own defence. It is because such a person would be placed at a disadvantage that one would argue that virtual automaticity in extradition ought to apply only if serious, serious crimes are involved.

The amendment refers to terrorism. Perhaps that is too narrow, and it should refer to offences that would carry a sentence of five years or seven years in this country. I remain to be persuaded that the whole apparatus of the Bill is necessary for the whole panoply of offences. Why have we removed the double criminality provision? We heard that Austria had preserved double criminality. The Minister told us in answer to my question that Austria had a derogation on double criminality until—I think he said—2008. I hope that I understood him correctly. It may be that, for that to end, the Austrian Government will have to amend their constitution. I know that one of the earlier problems that they had with the arrest warrant was their constitution. If amendment of the constitution is required, there is no guarantee that it will happen by 2008. If Austria can have some sort of derogation, why cannot we? Double criminality is, at least, one way of having some sort of court hearing.

I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, say that he saw no reason to have a mini-trial. There is a reason to have a mini-trial, if one is concerned about standards of justice. The noble Lord referred to Greece, Portugal and—I think he said—possibly Italy. I should have thought that, in the light of the Greek plane-spotters case, there was every reason to be concerned about standards of justice in Greece. That case was resolved only because of the intervention of the Foreign Secretary. Government-to-Government discussions were held so that an embarrassing situation could be prevented. In the future, when we have the arrest warrant, the Foreign Secretary will not be able to ring up and say, "We think that this is a miscarriage of justice".

I know that that was not an extradition case, but it could easily have given rise to such a case, and it is relevant that double criminality is disappearing. There were tremendous defects in the handling of that case. There were several categories of defendant and one lawyer provided for the lot of them. One of the people accused—a woman who had sat in a van reading a newspaper—was bundled together with all the others and represented by the same lawyer. I am told that, in Greece, the average salary of a judge is something like 10,000. It is not surprising that there should be some observations about the quality and impartiality of justice.

It was a concrete case. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, mentioned Greece, and we have the case of the plane-spotters in our minds. I see no reason why one should not have a mini-trial on such a question. That is why I support the idea of having some sort of threshold, whether it is terrorism, as has been

3 Jun 2003 : Column GC146

proposed by my noble friend, or some other threshold. What was said about Greece, Portugal and possibly Italy provides an argument in favour of having some sort of proceedings. I do not believe that a reference to the European Convention on Human Rights in Clause 21 is adequate. The convention has been judged to be consistent with all sorts of things that would appear rather questionable or strange to us. The presumption of innocence seems to operate differently in certain countries from how it operates here, but their practices have been judged to be consistent with the convention. That is why there must be a threshold or some sort of proceedings.

The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said that he did not agree with all that. He thinks that the matter can be addressed by tabling amendments to do with legal aid, translation facilities and bail. I will support such amendments; I agree with their thrust. However, that does not get at the issue of the quality of Greek justice. We will not solve the issue by concentrating on amendments to do with bail, translation facilities or legal representation. A mini-trial of the kind that was suggested for certain offences—not the most serious—is a good idea.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page