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Viscount Bledisloe: I found the case made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, compelling, particularly that the lesser the maximum sentence, the less likelihood the tourist will realise that something is criminal in that country. But there is another point. Those who have promoted the desirability of this whole system have done so on the basis that, "Well, you must not think only of our people being taken there, you must think of the desirability of us getting
There is an argument for saying that the three years could be reduced to a lesser period by Order in Council where the requesting state in question had also reduced similarly. It would be very wrong if we sent people back to a country for 12-month offences when that country would not return people to us except for three-year offences.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. On this occasion, I shall beg to differ in relation to the way in which these issues have been put. But I should like to thank and acknowledge some of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, in relation to appreciating that the provisions in relation to dual criminality and relaxation thereof will lead to simplification of the procedure. The noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, acknowledged that we wish people to comply with the laws of other countries. Those two issues are our starting point.
We do not think that our alteration amounts to gold-plating. We think it appropriate in this instance. We are rather surprised to see the way in which this matter has been addressed with such vigour by our Liberal Democrat colleagues who have said on a number of occasions, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said today, that they are generally in favour of the European arrest warrant and understand that it has value.
The Government remain of the view that there is no reason why in implementing the European measures the United Kingdom should always do the bare minimum and only that. Our positive approach to implementing the European arrest warrant will, we hope, set an example to other member states to take a similarly constructive attitude. In turn, that will enhance the benefits of the European arrest warrant for the United Kingdom.
It is rightas the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, mentionedthat we bear in mind the real difficulties we have had historically in successfully persuading many of our European partners to extradite nationals to our country to stand trial for offences that we believe should be dealt with here. Historically, that has been a huge difficulty. It will inure to our advantage if, on a proper basis, we are able, through this system, to encourage and enable other European partners who have in the past been resistant to become compliant now.
We must be clear what we are talking about. The Bill provides that where conduct falls under one of the categories of serious offences under the Article 2.2 listreferred to by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhartdual criminality will not apply where the offences attract a punishment of one year or more in prison, which we believe is a significant sentence.
It is therefore disheartening to hear the offences so described. The noble Lord is really saying that we have two tiers. If a person commits a trivial offence and may not know that it contravenes the laws of another country, he should be forgiven and dealt with differently. I do not mean forgiven in terms of avoiding punishment entirely, but there must be the dual criminality. It is only when it is outwith that that it will change. On looking at the list of offences, none is trivial.
Lord Goodhart: Does the noble Baroness not agree that at least some of these offences, while at one extreme are undoubtedly very serious, could also includefor example, environmental crimerelatively minor offences?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I obviously accept that it could include relatively minor offences. That is why one must double-lock. It is not only a question of whether the nature of the offence is serious, but the sentence imposed must be a significant sentence. If someone has been charged, convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of one year or more in relation to such an offence, it was not a trivial offence. It was a significant and serious offence.
Taking the example of theft, one could say that theft could constitute stealing a lollipop from Woolworth's. It is not a serious offence and is unlikely to attract a very serious sentence. It may be a serious nature of offence, but it can be dealt with more leniently. In the same bracket of offences is the theft of £1 million, which is a serious offence in terms of our legislation. That is the disparity. How is the difference judged? One looks at the nature of the sentence imposed.
Viscount Bledisloe: The argument about the sentence can apply only to extradition after conviction, except in an Alice in Wonderland situation where, when extraditing for trial, the sentence will not yet have been decided. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is that an offence can, as a maximum, incur 14 months' imprisonment. But it may be very trivial and it may be something that a person did not realise was contrary to the law of that country. One cannot judge when extraditing for trial what the sentence will be.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: There will be a combination of cases: those where you extradite for trial; those where an individual has been convicted of certain offences and a sentence is imposed when he skips bail, or a combination of both. In the cases with which we have dealt, the individual has not always "skipped"if I may put it colloquiallybefore being charged or dealt with. In many of those cases, the individual has been sentenced for these significant offences. The requesting state will indicate whether the offence attracts a sentence of imprisonment for one year or more. We still say that an offence that will, or could, attract a prison sentence of one year or more is a significant one.
In another place, the list has caused the sort of discussion that we are having here, where one likes to pick and mix which offences will be "serious". But the list is proper, and noble Lords should be able to rely on it.
Furthermore, it is important to look at the non-list offences under Part 1 on which we will operate a 12-month threshold. The dividing line between the two categories of offences could be as follows: a sentence of more than three years might be necessary for the "serious" list while a 12-month sentence would be needed for those Part 2 offences that are less serious. That would be a very perverse situation.
The noble Baroness says that we should not put forward this argument again, but, historically, we have taken the benchmark as 12 months. The introduction of a different threshold risks causing confusion, not least for the person whose extradition is requested. The universal application of a 12-month threshold in accusation cases would undoubtedly be much easier to follow than a sliding rule. We know from the "taste, eat and see" approach that the threshold works and has not caused us difficulty, so why is it feared that that which did not cause difficulty in the past is likely to cause additional difficulty now?
The amendment would change the wording of the Bill to mean that the dual criminality test would be lifted only if the offence were punishable by three years' imprisonment. I accept the noble Lord's point that the relaxation of dual criminality is legitimate in relation to the framework. He says that the framework got the balance right and that we should not alter it.
As is always the case, we have had to make objective assessments of where the proper benchmark should be in relation to the countries with which we deal, and what will inure to our advantage in sending people out of the country to be dealt with by other countries. In speaking to an earlier amendment, I have already dealt with the basis on which we send people to other countries. Part 1 countries are trusted colleagues who we can be confident will deal with extradited people fairly, properly and in accordance with the law, upholding their rights under the ECHR, other human rights, and international conditions that we would expect them to meet. On Part 2 cases we have other arrangements.
I seek to explain, since the Bill was introduced last year, and even before its introduction, that the European arrest warrant was intended to streamline extradition, not simply to replace one method of delay for another. I see what the framework position says and acknowledge that we have gone further than that. But we make no apology for so doing because we think that it is right to do so.
Our aim is to get the maximum benefit from the European arrest warrant in the interests of justice throughout the EU. There is no reason why, when we consider it appropriate, the United Kingdom should not go further than the European arrest warrant and enhance the benefit that it brings.
I would have thought that many Members of the Committee, particularly those on the Liberal Democrat Benches, but also those who sit on one part of Her Majesty's Opposition, would be of a mind on this issue. We wish to lead on this initiative in Europe; we do not want simply to follow the letter of the framework, doing the bare minimum necessary to comply with the agreement. That is where we would be if we felt objectively that it was the best that we could do. We do not want to be party to the lowest common denominator. Within the framework we want to look at what meets the needs of our country and settle our position at that point.
By enhancing the benefits of the European arrest warrant, we think that we will set an example to other member states. The right to free movement within the EU is being abused by serious criminals. When they commit crimes, they do not consider whether dual criminality would apply, the maximum possible sentence and the effect on their victims. We cannot, and will not, let the fight against that abuse be hampered by diluting the ability to pursue those people and to bring them to justice. That is the least that we owe the victims of crime in this country and throughout the EU.
It would be an entirely different scenario if we sought to extradite citizens of, or visitors to, this country to states where we had a genuine fear that the rule of law did not prevail, that those extradited would be in some way subject to abuse, that their human rights would not be upheld, that the process of law would not be robust, where there were no appeals and where there were no systems on which we could rely. In those circumstances, the anxiety about whether it should be one, two or three years would be much more understandable. We think that we have pitched it about right.
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