|European Arrest Warrant and Surrender Procedures Between Member States
Dr. Palmer: I shall address the general scrutiny issues that arose in various points of order. This sort of question will be arise frequently as we attempt to scrutinise on-going debates. We must accept that if we want the House to have influence on discussions, we are not only able but required to comment on works in progress. That will always be the case.
As for the substance of the debate, for as long as legal systems have existed, the law of foreign countries has been accepted as the valid law when we visit those countries. The classic phrase, ''When in Rome do as the Romans do,'' springs to mind. I am surprised to hear the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) appear to undermine that principle and say that he is so suspicious of the authorities in some European Union countries that it is the duty of the Government to extricate their citizens, even when they are believed to have committed an offence in those countries. Would he accept that in reverse? Would he accept the Greek Government's interfering in the British legal process if we attempted to prosecute under our law someone who was on holiday or otherwise visiting Britain? On that principle it would be impossible to prosecute international crime at all, and we would rapidly descend into chaos.
If we accept in practice, despite the hon. Gentleman's reservations, that legal authorities are entitled to prosecute people who visit their country, we then need to consider special cases, such as when an alleged offence comes to light only after the suspect has left the country. We are familiar with instances of child abduction in custody cases, when one of the parents seizes the child and leaves for another country before a British court has decided which of them should have custody. We know that considerable heartbreak arises when years of litigation follow before the issue can be resolved, at which point the person who kidnapped the child may even be rewarded. The court may decide that after the passage of several years, despite the gravity of the offence, it is not in the child's interests that justice be done by restoring him or her to the other parent. I do not believe that the hon. Members who put the case for a lengthy judicial process have taken such cases into consideration.
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It is important that the amendment to paragraph 2(3) that the Minister referred to is maintained. As the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon said last week, the current version would be flawed if a British court could require the production of a German suspect without that suspect having ever set foot in Britain or had anything to do with this country. If a relatively minor offence was involved that carried a one or two-year sentence, that would lead to serious difficulties, especially when the European Union expands to 25 countries. We could not guarantee that abuses might not occur in such cases. Will the Minister reassure the Committee that the British Government will press to maintain the latest version, as it ensures that when no dramatic offence has occurred that requires extraterritoriality, and the sentence may be less than three years, the issuing country cannot insist on its tradition if the crime was not committed on its territory?
I have one question of detail. Article 2(1) refers to the 12 months, which we have established should be a minimum rather than a maximum sentence. The Minister tells us that we now require a three-year limit to waive the requirement for dual criminality under article 2(3). Under article 2(1), when a sentence has been passed, the minimum period is not 12 months but four months. Does the latest version of the text of the agreement towards which we are working mention three years under article 2(3) in such cases, when sentence has already been passed, or does it refer to one year? Is the period triple that in article 2(1), or is it three years in both cases whether for charge or sentence?
I would like to go back to the question that I raised about the internetalthough I am aware that some Members feel it to be a somewhat nerdish point, we will find that it becomes increasingly important in such international legal debates. Let us take the case of holocaust denial, which, for historical reasons that we all understand, is a serious offence in Germany. I believe that it can carry a custodial sentence of at least three years, and although I may be wrong, let us assume that to be the case.
There are three distinct types of case. I mentioned one during questions to the Minister, in which a British subject goes to Germany and asserts that in his view, the Jews were well treated under the Nazis and the holocaust is an invention. We are aware of at least one case in which a prominent British historian made assertions that could have assisted those who wanted to deny the extent of the holocaust. In the second type of case, the assertion would be made only in Britain, and in the third type it would be made on the internet with the clear intention of reaching people in Germany, because it would be written in German and the website advertised in Germany. In that case, the Germans would have a reasonable case for asserting the extraterritoriality exemption and saying that the person was, in effect, committing a crime in Germany.
I appreciate the fact that some hon. Members find the subject difficult, but we could put the example in reverse. Imagine that someone has set up a website abroad to stir up hatred in, for instance, the Muslim
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Simon Hughes: My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) and I come from different legal systems, so we are conscious of the fact that we must accept that people move readily and rapidly between one legal system and another. There are three systems within the United Kingdom, and many more within the European Union.
As colleagues will expect me to say, we as a party do not traditionally have a problem with European co-operation, and that includes the criminal justice system. My judgment is like that of my colleagues who have been involved with the subject in the European Parliament, including Graham Watson, a Member of the European Parliament who chairs the relevant Committee. They were among those who recommended to the Parliament that we move towards a common European arrest warrant to deal with terrorist-related crime. That was the genesis of the recommendation that I read out earlier in a question to the Minister; I will not repeat it now. It was one of a set of recommendations to the Council made by the European Parliament in September, and sought to establish a European search and arrest warrant to deal with terrorism. If the Minister had come to the Committee with that as the proposal to be put by the Government to the Justice and Home Affairs Ministers in Europe and then to the Heads of Government meeting, there would be much less disagreement in the CommitteeI do not speak with any authority of the views of Labour or Conservative Members, but conversations that I have had elsewhere suggest that that is so.
Our position is that the process has been taken in the wrong order. I understand that there must be many attempts to get a draft right, and I accept that there have been three previous scrutiny exercises concerning drafts that have come before Parliament. That is a good thing. However, it is clear that on the previous occasion agreement had not been reached between the Committees concerned and the Government. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich, said that there had been no acceptance that the matter had become so uncontroversial that it ought not to have wider parliamentary debate. Indeed, the recommendation was that it should be considered on the Floor of the House, which would signify its importance.
The argument was that we should have had the extradition consultation first. The Government, to their credit, carried that out. However, we should then have considered the extradition legislation. Then, in the light of the debates in both Houses of Parliament, and the Scottish Parliament, we could have known what Parliament wanted the Government to agree with other EU member states.
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I wish that we had gone down that road. I accept that there may have been a case for an exception to the usual process because of the events of 11 September, but that should have been limited to certain ring-fenced matters, and should have been time-limited. There are discussions going on elsewhere relating to debates in the House of Lords on the European third-pillar issues this evening. We could reasonably have accepted a fast-track process for European third-pillar matters for three or six months while Parliament considered the matter, after which time the power would lapse. That in itself would have been controversial, but not nearly as controversial as the proposal before us.
The Library supplied an answer to an inquiry in SeptemberI have not repeated the request sinceabout how many people had been affected by the extradition system. Of a total of 49 people in the UK in custody awaiting extradition on 10 September, 19 were awaiting extradition to EU member states, of whom six were awaiting extradition to Italy, four to France, three to Germany, two to the Netherlands, two to Belgium, one to Spain and one to Greece. That is significant, because there were considerable numbers of people in this country with processes under way against them, and there will be similar numbers in other countries.
Like the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, I know from constituency experience how controversial the issue can become. It does not come up often in my constituency surgery or postbag, but when it does, it is difficult to secure justice through the system. My most recent experience involved a Sierra Leonean constituent of mine who was arrested in Belgium for an alleged immigration offence, when she had actually been on a visit to support a friend at a family event. There were real difficulties in securing justice for her. She was a UK permanent resident but not an EU citizen.
It appears from my unprofessional, but I hope adequate, understanding of the compromise proposal on the table following the meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Ministers last week, that it includes the introduction of a retrospectivity clause, which is always controversial, however much one understands the reasons for it. Because the motion goes wider than the European Parliament proposal, and because of that compromise proposal, my hon. Friends and I cannot give our support to the motion. We are not against the principle behind it, and I know that the Minister will understand our position. We are glad that the Government are working towards a satisfactory conclusion, but we would be very unhappy if, at the Heads of Government meeting at the end of this week, they reached a conclusion that went broader than the terrorism proposals made in September.
Because this is only a take-note opportunity, our recommendation and our wish is that the Government should continue to seek agreement on the more limited terrorist-related matters this weekend and that, irrespective of whether the Italian Government keep to their position, the other matters should be left until the we have dealt with the legislation that Ministers intend
Column Number: 43to introduce in the new year. We will be much better equipped to deal with this once Parliament has properly debated these complex issues, on which Ministers have been consulting for quite a long time.
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