Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: As the Minister said, I have tabled amendments in this group. I put them forward in order to probe the Government's intent in fixing the 40-day period. The noble Baroness has no reason to apologise for the length of her answer today because she has been able to give an explanation that was missing in the debates in another place. I appreciate the Government's concern to try to provide

8 Jul 2003 : Column GC98

just one time limit within which all papers should reach the district judge in one fell swoop while reflecting the difficulties that may arise in different countries in so doing.

When we looked at the Bill and saw the 40-day time limit, the first matter that came to mind was that there were no comparable limits within the 1989 Act. We then considered the matter further and thought that surely, in those 10 years, things must have improved with technology so that tighter time limits could be considered. Therefore, we chose our limit simply as a tool to open up the debate.

I accept entirely the explanation given by the Minister. Therefore, she will be pleased to know that, because of her lengthy explanation, I do not intend to return to this matter on Report. However, I believe that it was important for her explanation to be placed on the record.

Lord Goodhart: I concur entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I quite understand what she said but I want to make one or two comments. Given the age of some of the treaties and the length of time provided, it sounds as though they go back to the days when documents were transmitted by steamer, if not by sail—long before the days of air mail, let alone fax or e-mail. While I entirely understand why the Government chose that time limit, I want to express the hope that, when they negotiate new treaties, they will go for a somewhat shorter period.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I congratulate my noble friend Lady Anelay on these probing amendments. Seldom can a probe have disclosed so much. The only question that I want to ask, arising out of what I found a fascinating expose by the Minister, concerns the extradition treaty with Brazil. If it could not get Biggs back for us, what went wrong?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The noble and learned Lord may remember that when I read out the list, I said that the Biggs extradition treaty was signed in 1997. Therefore, fruit came from the trouble that I know the noble and learned Lord may have had in relation to this issue when he was Attorney-General. We did get Brazil to agree. Those who sit beside me—indeed, I would include myself if the Government were so minded—would be quite happy to travel the world renegotiating these treaties.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 180 to 182 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 183 and 184 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 73, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 74 [Date of extradition hearing: arrest under section 70]:

Baroness Carnegy of Lour moved Amendment No. 185:

    Page 41, line 2, leave out "2 months" and insert "40 days"

8 Jul 2003 : Column GC99

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 185, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 211. These are probing amendments and, again, concern the subject of time limits, although the argument is slightly different. I shall be brief.

Amendment No. 185 concerns the time limit within which an extradition hearing on a Part 2 warrant must commence. Clause 76, which we are about to come to, states that in the case of such a hearing in Scotland, the judge's powers will be substantially the same as if the proceedings were summary proceedings. In such proceedings, according to the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, a person awaiting trial must not be detained for more than 40 days after the complaint has come to court.

If summary powers are being exercised, the Law Society of Scotland sees no reason to depart from the time limit set in Scotland. Indeed, the society suggests that, for the rest of the United Kingdom, a period of 40 days might be better than the two months proposed in the Bill. The society has asked how many days would constitute a period of two months. Would that be two calendar months? The amendment therefore proposes a limit of 40 days for the whole of the United Kingdom.

Amendment No. 211 makes the same suggestion for the same reasons in relation to Clause 98. It would reduce the period during which the Secretary of State must respond with his decision on a person's extradition from two months to 40 days. After discussion with the Law Society of Scotland, I beg to move Amendment No. 185.

7 p.m.

Lord Goodhart: I rise briefly to say that the name of my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie has been added to this amendment. On his behalf, I confirm that noble Lords on these Benches support the amendment.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I rise to endorse what has just been said by my noble friend Lady Carnegy. I recall that, in her response to an earlier group of amendments, the noble Baroness highlighted the difficulties of making arrangements when other countries specified periods comprising months but did not state which months. Here is set a limit of two months, but it is the case that different months contain different numbers of days. I shall be interested in an explanation of why the Government have alighted on such a period.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, for tabling these amendments. They are concerned with the time limits set out in Part 2. Perhaps I may say straightaway that we are very willing to listen to arguments about the limits we have set and to questions as to whether they are right. We certainly do not claim to have a monopoly of wisdom in this area. There is an interesting debate to be had and I shall come to that in

8 Jul 2003 : Column GC100

a moment. I was also very interested to hear what the noble Baroness had to say about the practice in Scotland.

However, since one of the issues at stake is the time in which the Home Secretary has to make his decision in particular cases, this seems a good moment to try to respond to some of the issues that were raised earlier by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. I believe that the matter was discussed during the first day or two of these Committee proceedings. Unfortunately I was not present and I do not know whether those days are now so thoroughly passed by that I do not need to address these issues: such peace has broken out in the Committee since those early heady days.

At that point the noble Lord suggested that in certain particular cases my right honourable friend the Home Secretary had been dilatory, which led to delays. Noble Lords will appreciate why I cannot comment on individual cases, but I can answer the point in general terms. First, however, I can assure your Lordships that the Secretary of State takes his responsibilities in extradition cases very seriously and acts with all due expedition on every occasion. He certainly does not sit on cases unnecessarily—if, for no other reason than that no Home Secretary would want to see a valuable prison place taken up if he could possibly avoid it.

As noble Lords would expect, the Home Secretary considers all representations very carefully. Therein lies one of the problems and one of the reasons why cases can appear to sit for a long time on the Secretary of State's desk. There is no limit to the number of representations that can be made or, more important, when. So the Secretary of State can have considered all the representations very carefully and be about to reach his decision when fresh representations are made. Those can and do amount to 10, 20 or even 30 full box files, all of which have to be studied in detail. Moreover, of course, the other side may need to be given the opportunity to respond to the arguments in the new representations.

All of this takes time. I am sure that noble Lords would want all representations to be considered with the greatest care. I hope therefore that noble Lords will accept that perhaps it is not right to criticise my right honourable friend when he does exactly that and gives proper consideration to each and every one of those recommendations. Perhaps I may gently suggest that it is particularly unfair to chastise him by reference to individual cases knowing that in this House he is not in a position to answer directly, even though he would have a very good story to tell.

I turn now to the specific amendments before the Committee. I am sympathetic to their motivation and I can reassure noble Lords that the Government are as keen as the Committee to ensure that no fugitive is held in custody for longer than is absolutely necessary. The Government would not want to create a system which contains avoidable inefficiencies.

As currently drafted, Clause 74 requires that the main extradition hearing in a Part 2 case should begin within two months of the fugitive's first appearance

8 Jul 2003 : Column GC101

before the judge. This is in cases where the person has been arrested under a full order request made under Part 2. Similarly, under Clause 98, if the judge has sent the person's case to the Secretary of State for consideration, the Secretary of State must decide whether the person is to be extradited or discharged within two months. In each case these amendments would reduce the period from two months to 40 days.

The first point I should make is that our current legislation, the Extradition Act 1989, contains no time limits. Clearly there is no right answer to the question. As I have said, I am perfectly willing to listen to the arguments put for different limits. It might be helpful if I explain in detail why we settled on the period of two months.

I shall deal first with the time limit for the hearing to start. The two-month time limit has been given careful consideration. It aims to provide a balance between ensuring that the fugitive's case is heard as quickly as possible—we certainly do not want anyone languishing in gaol at the taxpayer's expense for longer than is absolutely necessary—while ensuring that the fugitive's solicitor has sufficient time in which to prepare his case.

This may sound like an obvious point, but we must remember that in some Part 2 hearings the fugitive's brief may have to make a defence against a prima facie case. This could require obtaining witness statements and other material from the requesting state, which—let us be frank—may not have the communication facilities that we have come to expect in the developed world. I recognise that this also allows the requesting state the time to put together its own case and, in the interests of a comprehensive and just judicial process, I am sure that noble Lords would agree that that is right.

If the 40-day limit were to be imposed, as the amendment moved by the noble Baroness suggests, I fear that the number of applications for a later date to be fixed would rise, particularly in light of the discussions in Committee on 19th June when it was noted that lawyers are a very thorough breed—this was a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay—and need a lot of time, and more if possible. One can anticipate that this would be an issue.

I turn now to Amendment No. 211, which would reduce the amount of time the Secretary of State has to make his decision on a Part 2 case. Again I understand the desire of noble Lords to streamline the process as much as possible. As I have already outlined, the Secretary of State will have to consider various representations. Those representations will come primarily from the fugitive's legal representatives, although it is possible that the requesting state, other organisations such as Amnesty International, as well as members of the public, may also make representations about the individual's case.

In order to allow sufficient time for these representations to be put together and submitted, we felt that a time limit of two months would be appropriate. Indeed, reducing the time-scale in Clause 98 might actually have the effect of putting the fugitive

8 Jul 2003 : Column GC102

at a greater disadvantage if, for example, he was seeking to obtain material to counter assertions made by the requesting state.

One matter that we shall certainly want to consider is whether we should seek to impose a deadline within the time limit by which all representations have to be submitted. This would ensure that the Secretary of State has proper time to consider them and avoid the problems of the late and multiple representations which bedevil the current system.

If there is one recurring feature of the Bill, it is that extradition is a balancing act between the interests of justice and the need to safeguard those who are subject to the extradition process. These amendments raise such issues in a nutshell. We all want to speed up the process and, in particular, to ensure that those who are the subject of extradition are not held in custody for unnecessarily long periods. However, we need to ensure that both sides have adequate time in which to prepare their cases and to submit whatever representations they consider necessary.

I hope that by now Members of the Committee will have detected that the Government are uncertain about the best approach to take. We will study the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, with the greatest of care. It may be that the course hinted at by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, of picking two months and putting a figure to it might be better—we are really not sure. So we are open to further argument as to how to draw it. We want certainty; if certainty is better met by providing for 60 days or whatever, we can see that. We see the force of providing 40 days—I have explained at great length why we chose that time limit for other provisions. But we know there are difficulties in terms of what is happening on the ground.

We have listened to what the district judges who have been dealing with these applications have indicated to us so that we could fashion something which will be practical and will work, but we are not tied to this figure. So if any Members of the Committee would like to make representations before we think again about this, I would be most grateful to receive them.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page