European Arrest Warrant and Surrender Procedures Between Member States

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Mrs. Dunwoody: In view of my hon. Friend's earlier reply, will he make it clear that, if the framework decision on a European arrest warrant is accepted and all the other member states subsequently agree to expand the crimes on the list to include acts such as euthanasia and abortion, this country would still retain the right to refuse to apply that secondary list? If, as he appeared to tell us earlier, the Government's attitude is that they do not want to maintain such reserves, will that mean that the European Court of Justice could override the House of Commons?

Mr. Ainsworth: There is no requirement for the abolition of dual criminality in the European framework decision in respect of abortion or euthanasia. Whether we abolish dual criminality for such acts is a matter for Parliament. We have reflected on views that have been expressed to us. We do not believe that it will be an issue, but if we are convinced that we must protect against it, we will be free to do so. We will not be required to abolish dual criminality in those matters.

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Simon Hughes: I understand that if the framework decision is agreed at the Laeken summit, it must be passed into law by the end of 2002. The Minister said in writing to the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and me that the Government's intention is that extradition matters will be governed by primary legislation which will be introduced next year. Will the UK Parliament be free to amend the proposal in the directive so that if, for example, the environmental or high-tech crime provisions were thought to be too wide, they could be narrowed or, if we wanted, we could exclude xenophobia? If Parliament amended the provisions, what would be the result?

Mr. Ainsworth: If we sign up to the framework document, the UK Parliament will not be free to introduce legislation that does not comply or, therefore, remove crimes from the list for the abolition of dual criminality. As I said, since the document that is before the Committee was issued, a three-year minimum sentence for the requirement to abolish dual criminality has also been agreed. We will be required to extradite for crimes on the list that carry at least a three-year sentence in the issuing state. In bringing this legislation into being in the UK Parliament, we will not be allowed to break the terms of the framework. I told my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich that it is clear from the discussions that have taken place since 31 October that there will be no such requirement on abortion and euthanasia. We will be totally free in those areas.

Dr. Palmer: I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his clarifications. He is persuading me that the measures proposed would help to speed up the prosecution of serious criminals. Will he confirm that there have been more cases in recent years of people seeking to evade British justice by not being deported back to Britain to face the courts than the other way around? We stand to gain more than we would lose by this in terms of bringing suspects to justice in Britain.

Mr. Ainsworth: I do not think that that is quite the case. They are in roughly equal numbers. Somewhere in my folder I have the numbers, which I could give to my hon. Friend. I shall try to dig them out before we get to the debate. Over the past 10 years there has been a relatively small increase in extradition. Broadly, we apply for similar numbers as are applied for against us. Britain is not an easy country from which to extradite; the cases can be spun out for years and many fail as a result. I am certain that many applications are not even made because of the difficulties that arise.

Mr. Wilkinson: The draft directive was promoted by the Government on the basis that it was a response to terrorism. Does the Minister think that it has the right priorities in those circumstances? For example, does he believe that the illicit trafficking in cultural goods, swindling or the forgery of administrative documents merit extradition? Has he thought of the implications of the terrorist provisions for the United States of America? Does not the European convention on human rights preclude EU member states from extraditing to the US terrorist suspects whom the

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Americans believe are guilty of heinous offences such as those committed on 11 September? Is that the right sense of priorities?

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is wrong. This was not conceived in response to 11 September. It was around a long time before that. We issued a consultation document on extradition, to which all hon. Members could respond. Yes, it acquired a degree of urgency as a result of the events of 11 September. We propose to bring forward primary legislation to modernise all our extradition arrangements. I know that this offends the hon. Gentleman deeply, but the modernisation of our arrangements with our EU partners will have to be within the framework of this document if it is agreed. We plan to bring forward legislation relating to the US and all our other extradition partners.

Mr. Cameron: In the light of the plane-spotting case, which has obviously been in the press a great deal, is it not possible in this directive to build in some maximum period between arrest, incarceration and subsequent charge? That has been the problem with the Greek case, and nothing in the document appears to reflect that. At the last meeting, the Minister said:

    ''when the trial is to be held in Europe, we should not be looking under every stone to find out how it may allegedly be inadequate.''—[Official Report, European Standing Committee B, 3 December 2001; c. 3.]

In the light of the Greek case, should we not be ''looking under every stone''? Is the Minister suggesting that if another 12 plane-spotters go to Greece and do what the original 12 plane-spotters did, and are not arrested there but come back to the UK, they would be extradited on the authority of the Greek police—in collaboration with the correct judicial authority in the UK—without him wanting to look under every stone? Is that not the problem?

Mr. Ainsworth: Remand is not always dealt with expeditiously in this country either. Many British citizens, as well as people who have been extradited from abroad, are kept on remand for a considerable time, sometimes at the request of the defence. The hon. Gentleman may say that people are kept on remand for a long time in other member states, but that also happens in the UK.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Article 2 lists several offences for which the dual criminality rule is to be abolished. In other words, the individual can be extradited even for an act that is not a crime in this country. Those offences include environmental crime, high-tech crime, and swindling.

Swindling is not an offence under British law. A ''swindler'' is a term of abuse, but it does not have precision or legal meaning. If a requesting state demands extradition, who is to decide whether the offence comes under the general term ''swindling''? Which judicial authority will decide whether the individual can be taken against his or her will to face charges in a foreign state for which there is no corresponding offence in this country?

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The Chairman: Order. The Minister began his statement at 4.39 pm and questions ended officially at 5.39 pm. I have allowed them to continue under Standing Order No. 119 as there appear to be a few more, and I shall take those before we begin the debate.

Mr. Ainsworth: It will be for the issuing authority to frame the European arrest warrant. In this country, crimes committed under the Theft Act could be covered by the generic term ''swindling'', but the crime would have to carry a sentence of at least 12 months in the issuing state. If that state framed a warrant in that way, it could apply for extradition.

Simon Hughes: I put a hypothetical case to the Minister. If some of my constituents went to Spain and came back, the Spanish authorities wanted to extradite them, a warrant was issued from a Spanish court for their extradition and they were picked up in this country, what safeguards would they know they had from then on, and where would they find them? What legal advice, legal aid and translation and interpretation of every stage would they have? When would they know when they were to be charged, brought before a court or dealt with in another way?

Mr. Ainsworth: They would be taken in front of Bow Street magistrates court and would be advised of their rights to a defence before that happened. They could make a case for their not being returned, although the reasons for which extradition could be refused would be limited. All the safeguards would be in place in respect of rights to consent or otherwise in the return and would be made known to the person on arrest.

Simon Hughes: What would happen when they got back to Spain?

Mr. Ainsworth: As I have said, the question is to what, if any, extent we intend to trust our partners' judicial systems. Should the French authority decide whether a French person who is returned to this country to face judicial activity needs to be protected in that by the French? To what degree should we insist that that takes place in return? We do not believe that we need to oversee the operations of the judicial authorities of our European partners, which have signed the ECHR.

Dr. Palmer: My hon. Friend may recall that last week I raised privately with him the definition of territoriality in relation to the internet. Let us suppose that I am a British neo-Nazi attempting to promote a Nazi revival in Germany and I draft a website in German aimed at the German market. Would I be committing an offence on German territory even if I did not physically visit that country?

Mr. Ainsworth: The law is developing in that regard, so what would happen in such a situation is not completely clear. However, I can say that the requirement on extra-territoriality means that someone would have to go to Germany and break the law there to be extraditable. If the crime were

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committed in the United Kingdom, there would not be a requirement to extradite in the circumstances outlined by my hon. Friend.

 
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