European Arrest Warrant and Surrender Procedures Between Member States

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Mrs. Dunwoody: Is the Minister certain that anyone tried in absentia would not be returned to another state without a cast iron guarantee of a proper retrial, or is this another of the rather vague definitions that we are expected to take in good faith?

Mr. Ainsworth: There has been some discussion about COPEN 65 since it was issued. It has been agreed that future texts will guarantee a retrial if a person is absent from an original trial, and contain safeguards for the rights of the defence.

Mr. Wilkinson: First, exactly what is entailed in the list of potential offences in article 2(2)? On fraud and the financial interests of the European Community, is the Minister aware that every year the Court of Auditors fails to approve the budget of the European Union? Will the provisions be used to extradite officials? Secondly, is not xenophobia a passive condition? It is not a transitive condition, but something from which people suffer. How is a fear of strangers a criminal offence?

Mr. Ainsworth: On the hon. Gentleman's first point, fraud is a serious offence and the authorities will be able to issue a European arrest warrant for fraud. I see no problem with that. On xenophobia, he should be aware that crimes associated with race hate in this country would fall under that heading.

Dr. Palmer: Does the Minister consider that it is correct for line 2 of article 2(1) to refer to

    ''a custodial sentence or a detention order of a maximum of at least twelve months''?

In view of the Minister's earlier comments, should that not read a minimum of 12 months?

Mr. Ainsworth: It should have been a minimum of 12 months. As a result of further negotiations, the requirement to abolish dual criminality is now three years, but the point at which a European arrest warrant becomes available is still a minimum of a 12-month sentence.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): I should like to ask the Minister three quick questions. Whatever happens with the arrest warrant and the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, which we will debate on the Floor of the House later this week, is there a guarantee that the arrest warrant will be incorporated into UK law not via the accelerated third pillar procedures in clause 109

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of the Bill, but separately through a future extradition Bill? I believe that we have that guarantee, but I would be grateful for confirmation. Secondly—

The Chairman: Order. That is one question, and hon. Members should ask one at a time.

Mr. Ainsworth: It is our intention to introduce an extradition Bill that will incorporate not only the issues of the European arrest warrant, but our relations with countries that are not in the EU. As hon. Members will know, we have an antiquated system of extradition. Heavily contested cases take years, and justice can be denied to victims. We need to modernise our procedures.

John Cryer (Hornchurch): To return to the question of xenophobia, which is cited in article 2, the Minister referred to race hate crimes on the statute book in this country. However, in answer to a question asked by Lord Pearson of Rannoch on 29 November, Lord Rooker said:

    ''The term ''racism and xenophobia'' as listed in Article 2 of the framework decision on the European arrest warrant is a generic description. It is a decision for the issuing state as to how it frames the offence under its national law when it makes a request under a European arrest warrant.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 November 2001; Vol. 629, c. 60W.]

That indicates that the legislation will vary from country to country, because it will be affected by existing law. If a member of the European Union decided that xenophobia—in most people's books it is not racism but something different—included particularly virulent criticism of the European Union, a judge could sign an arrest warrant and somebody could be arrested the following day.

Mr. Ainsworth: In theory, that is true, but my hon. Friend must accept that our European partners cannot issue a European arrest warrant unless the crime is punishable by a minimum sentence of 12 months in their country. Yes, other countries have crimes under the category of xenophobia that this country does not. However, the basic principle is whether and to what extent we are prepared to trust our European neighbours, all of which are signatories to the European convention on human rights, and to allow justice to be secured—in the other country, if not in this one—if a crime is committed in another European country. The return for that is that the same thing will apply to the citizens of other countries who come here.

There are still members of the EU that will not extradite their nationals to this country. People increasingly move between countries, and travel is becoming easier as well as more common. It is not acceptable that someone can escape justice for crimes committed in this country by simply moving abroad. However, if we are to require extradition in the one direction, we must be prepared to give it in the other.

Mr. Hawkins: Pursuing that point, we on the Opposition Benches believe strongly that the first duty of any British Government is to protect the rights of

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their citizens who are innocent. My question is further to the Minister's comments in our previous abortive debate:

    ''We are trying to get away from that antiquated approach because it leads constantly to arguments, delays and repeat judicial reviews of cases—and years before anyone can be extradited.''—[Official Report, European Standing Committee B, 3 December 2001; c. 9.]

People who are absolutely innocent may be accused by some foreign judicial authority, such as a magistrate on the island of Sicily who is under the control of the Mafia. We are not prepared to trust such a judicial authority.

It is good that Italy has so far vetoed the proposal. However, if the Minister says that such issues normally require unanimity but that it will not require unanimity if all the other members agree to go ahead, a word means what we want it to mean, and we are in an Alice in Wonderland world. Will the Minister accept that there are serious concerns about accepting so-called judicial authorities? He should understand by now the huge concern in this country, highlighted by the current case of the UK plane-spotters in prison in Greece.

Mr. Ainsworth: Yes, it is an absolute first order that Governments try to protect their citizens. A great amount of travel takes place in the European Union, including into this country. One has only to travel on the motorway or the underground to see European citizens who move among us every day. I do not understand how the hon. Gentleman could imagine that allowing those citizens to remain beyond our justice system is in the interests of protecting our citizens. We cannot expect countries to return people who have committed crimes against British citizens to face justice in this country if we are not prepared to reciprocate. The hon. Gentleman refers to ''some foreign'' judicial authority, but we are talking about EU members, all of which are signed up to the European convention on human rights.

I apologise if I was not clear about unanimity. Although unanimity is required on third-pillar matters, the hon. Gentleman should know that if one state opts out and is happy for everyone else to go ahead, it can agree to that. That has happened before and it might in this case, if the Italian Government are happy for the other 14 states to proceed.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): I have several concerns, and I am not a lawyer, so I listen with interest to those who are. My hon. Friend makes much of the process of easing the extradition of people who have later committed crimes in other European countries. That may not be too difficult in cases of joint criminality. However, if that is not the case, I am concerned about extradition. My hon. Friend has not been absolutely clear about cases such as abortion and euthanasia.

Mr. Ainsworth: I shall try to satisfy my hon. Friend. Abortion and euthanasia issues are not raised by the framework document. Under the terms of the document, we can continue to apply dual criminality in those areas. We can address that through primary

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legislation, and under the framework document we can decide whether to maintain dual criminality. It is clearly agreed in the text that dual criminality does not have to be abolished in those areas.

My hon. Friend asked whether it is fair to move people around and create a justice system outside dual criminality areas. I have dealt with extradition cases since I became a Home Office Minister. Dual criminality is used constantly to question, delay and prevent extradition. Proving an exact correlation between a crime committed in this country and its translation into German or French law often provides a field day for lawyers and the judiciary. Some cases take years. If we trust our neighbours, all of which have signed up to the ECHR, we must accept their legal systems, and accordingly the abolition of dual criminality.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I draw the Minister's attention to article 15, which states that there shall be one appeal against a decision to extradite. The Minister knows that in our system appeals run from a divisional court, to the High Court, the Court of Appeal and, in complicated cases, the House of Lords. Will the accused be able to pick only one appeal? That would demolish an important judicial safeguard, particularly if it were allied to article 17, which says that the entire process must be compressed into 30 days. A complicated asylum seeker case would have to go through all the necessary appeals within 30 days. Will the Minister say whether articles 15 and 17 remain in the draft and have not been changed, and will he clarify the Government's attitude towards them?

Mr. Ainsworth: Our position is that in England the Bow Street magistrates court should continue to be the issuing judicial authority, and that there should be one appeal against its decision. The order now provides for 90 days to deal with such cases, and endless repetitious appeals and judicial reviews are part of the problem that we face with the current system.

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Prepared 10 December 2001