European Arrest Warrant and Surrender Procedures Between Member States

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Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): Will the Minister help me to clarify the change of which he speaks by considering a particular case? He talked about introducing mutual recognition of legal standards. That will introduce an idea from commercial law in the EU—that we all accept that one thing is as good as another throughout the Community—into criminal law. However, in the case of the 12 plane-spotters, alluded to in the press, there has been a different appreciation of the issues. Greece does not appear to have a ready understanding of plane-spotting, and has a different approach to habeas corpus; it has kept those people for three weeks without trial. Were those people to have returned to this country and an EU arrest warrant to have been made for their return to Greece, would the proposal have made it easier for the Greeks to get them back to Greece? Would the effect of the proposal be a speedier system than that under current extradition laws? Is that the change to which the Minister alludes?

Mr. Ainsworth: It is always fraught with difficulty for a Minister to comment on individual cases. The only thing to say to the hon. Gentleman is that we should not frame our decisions in this place on the basis of press reports about the criminal justice system as it operates in another country. We should certainly not do so where British criminals face judicial systems in foreign countries or where foreigners face the judicial system of this country. That is not a reliable guide to where justice lies.

David Cairns: I have a much briefer question. What are the implications, if any, for Scotland of the existence of different criminal law systems in this country, and what input have Scottish law officers had?

Mr. Ainsworth: As my hon. Friend will know, this is an issue on which the Home Office leads for the United Kingdom. However, the Scottish Executive and Scottish legal authorities were consulted when the original documents on proposed changes to extradition law were drawn up, and they were also consulted during the past few months' discussions on specific proposals in the framework document. They were happy with the proposals, but I should stress again that the Home Office led the discussion.

Simon Hughes: I should like to ask about the breadth of the definitions in article 2(2), which relates to the concern expressed by the Scrutiny Committee in a previous report about the vagueness—in some cases, complete absence—of the definition of offences involving dual criminality. For example, have the Government worked out which offences in English law—or in Scottish law, for that matter—are covered by the general headings of high-tech crime, environmental crime, and racism and xenophobia? In keeping with the question from the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), and in the light of the Government's promised Bill, how would we deal with a situation in which Parliament did not want a British person to be extradited to another EU country, on the ground that the offence in question did not exist in the UK? There would be no reason for the person concerned to assume that the act in question was an offence in that country, and there is the genuine concern that they might be extradited for it. The simple principle, ''When in Rome, do as the Romans do'', is not easy to apply in the context of legal consequences such as detention.

Mr. Ainsworth: It will be for the issuing authority to frame its warrant according to the offences listed in article 2(2). The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: on drafting the Bill we will not have the ability to say that we are unwilling to accept application of the European arrest warrant to an area that is covered by the positive list. As with cases in this country, ignorance of the law is not a protection from it. However, we would rely on those in the country in question accepting mitigating circumstances when such a trial took place.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept the broad thrust of our position. If we are to expect our European neighbours to have confidence in our legal system and to extradite their nationals to face justice in this country, we must show the same confidence in return. However, thus far, some European Union countries have not been prepared to show such confidence. Potentially, if a national of such a country committed a serious crime on our streets, the prospect of getting him to return to this country to face justice would be minimal, if not non-existent. None the less, we cannot be prejudiced. We cannot expect our European neighbours to accept and show confidence in our judicial system by allowing it to apply to nationals who have committed crimes in this country, if we are not prepared to accept the reverse.

Mr. Maples: Will the Minister help me with article 2 of the proposals? I completely understand paragraphs (2) and (4), but I do not understand paragraph (3):

    ''For offences other than those referred to in paragraph 2, the surrender may be subject''

—presumably, under our legislation—

    ''to the condition that the acts justifying the issue of the European arrest warrant constitute an offence under the law of the executing State'',

which, in our case, would be the United Kingdom. I imagine that the intention is that any offence not listed in paragraph (2) would be subject to the dual criminality rule. That would be the meaning if the paragraph stopped at that point. I do not understand what is meant by the addition of

    ''where the acts were committed fully or partly on the territory of the executing State.''

I have thought about it on and off for about three days, but I simply cannot understand it. If it means that the offence was committed partly in the United Kingdom, the offence would be prosecutable in the United Kingdom and the offender would not be subject to extradition to another country. Alternatively, it could be an attempt to introduce the concept of extraterritoriality, which I asked the Minister about earlier. However, if it is intended to provide a get-out when a foreign judicial authority tries to exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction, why would it not apply to the paragraph (2) offences as well? At best, the provision is badly drafted and confusing and, at worst, it does not mean anything.

I may be wrong, and I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify the paragraph. With the help of two or three people in the Library and a couple of lawyers, I have tried to understand it but cannot. If the intention is to apply dual criminality to offences not listed in paragraph (2), the final words

    ''where the acts were committed fully or partly on the territory of the executing State''

are superfluous. Otherwise, it is complicated and unclear.

Mr. Ainsworth: I do not know which document and paragraph the hon. Gentleman refers to.

Mr. Maples: Article 2(3) of the conclusions of the presidency of the Council dated 31 October, which begins:

    ''For offences other than those referred to in paragraph 2''.

I do not understand what is added or taken away by the final line.

Mr. Ainsworth: I think that the hon. Gentleman is working with an earlier version of the text than the one I have. I will try to return to his point during the debate; that is all that I can say at the moment. A copy of the text that he is using has just been given to me, and it is not the same.

Mr. Hawkins: On a point of order, Mr. Griffiths. Perhaps I can assist the Minister. The text that my hon. Friend is using is the one that was supplied to members of the Committee.

Mr. Ainsworth: The up-to-date text has been supplied to the Committee, but that is not it.

Mrs. Dunwoody: Further to that point of order, Mr. Griffiths. I have been working from the papers that I picked up as I entered the Room. The rule of the House of Commons is that, if papers are to be discussed in a Committee—including a European Committee—they are to be supplied to Members. I wish to raise questions on article 16 about decisions that are extrajudicial and superior to those of British judges, and on articles 17 and 18. Am I to understand that I have been working from a text that is not the same as the Minister's? That would constitute a minor problem.

The Chairman: I thank the hon. Lady for making that comment. I have looked at the papers, and it appears that the papers that we in the Committee received were handled within the Committee structure. The paper that has just been handed to the Minister is the up-to-date version from the Home Office. As it is apparent that there is a difference, I ought to suspend the Committee, if not postpone it. I will suspend the Committee for a maximum of 15 minutes so that the usual channels can try to sort something out. If they cannot do so in that time, I will adjourn the Committee until a later date.

Mrs. Dunwoody: Further to that point of order, Mr. Griffiths. We are in no way challenging your view, as that is probably the immediate and sensible response. However, the hazard in suspending the Committee is that even if the usual channels come to an agreement, we will still be unable to access the papers from which the Minister is working. I hope that you adjourn the Committee, as it would be very unwise for proceedings on something so important to the individual freedoms of United Kingdom citizens to continue without the text that we are supposed to be discussing.

Mr. Hawkins: Further to that point of order, Mr. Griffiths.

Mr. Maples: Further to that point of order, Mr. Griffiths.

The Chairman: order. Members could go on raising points of order for a long time. If it appears—I should be a part of the discussion—that there are several differences between the texts, it would not be fair to carry on, and I will adjourn the proceedings. We will have a quick look; if there are several changes, we will have to adjourn.

Mr. Hawkins: Before you do so, Mr. Griffiths, may I say that I already know the point of view of the Opposition Front-Bench team? I wish to take further legal advice. We have taken legal advice on the text that we thought was to be debated this afternoon, and I shall be submitting the content of discussions with the Minister. The Committee should be adjourned, because as the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich has just said, on an issue as important as this, 15 minutes is not enough time to get such advice.

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