European Arrest Warrant and Surrender Procedures Between Member States

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Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): The Minister and other hon. Members will recall that I expressed some unease last week about the procedure being adopted for making what seemed a radical change in British and European law. My sense of unease has not gone; indeed, it is stronger. A Sub-Committee of the European Scrutiny Committee, which deals with European legislation, seems to be making a decision in principle about a major matter of law. The Bill will come later, should the matter be agreed today, but that seems an inappropriate body to make such a decision. Scrutinising legislation does not mean deciding a major point of law in principle, but my fear is that that is what is happening. I may be wrong, and I hope that the Minister will reassure me.

I reassure the Minister that I am not against the idea of making extradition proceedings smoother and more efficient. I do not want countries to be able to protect people who are alleged to have committed criminal offences, or to prevent a proper trial in the appropriate country. I am in favour of that, but I am worried that such a draconian change to British and European law is necessary to achieve it. That, at least, should be debated on the Floor of the House and not by Committees. I too have a copy of the debate in another place, and I browsed through some of their lordships comments. I am not a lawyer and I am not comfortable speaking on matters of law, but I want to the matter to be debated more fully than we can debate it here.

I have mentioned my worries about dual criminality. Rather than allowing a general abolition of dual criminality, with some exceptions, it would be better to eliminate it from specific areas in so as to be able to prosecute some offences, such as terrorism, properly. Another area is specialty: someone who is extradited from one country to another on a charge of, for instance, theft, can be accused on arrival of causing grievous bodily harm, or whatever, instead. That is slightly worrying, especially if the charge is entirely unrelated. The document does not seem to specify that it has to be a related crime. Raising a crime from manslaughter to murder is within reason, but to change a small holding charge to something different would be worrying, especially in certain countries within the EU.

On that point, some countries in the EU, which I shall not name—[Hon. Members: ''Go on.''] No, I will not. I have good friends there, and they would not be pleased about my casting aspersions on their system of law, their law officers and their police forces. A senior police officer has told me that for the past two or three years, when he passes information through Europol it will be secure in some countries but not others. In fact, I was told that in one particular place, the first thing that the police do is hand the information to the criminals concerned. That is worrying.

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Reference has been made to the possibility of legal structures in some parts of the EU being influenced by a fraternity of people with criminal tendencies, and there is a tradition of that in some parts of Europe. One can imagine someone from such a country doing something in Britain to upset that fraternity, which could then get a court to extradite him on a trivial charge, get him back where it wanted him and then exercise a degree of control—I shall go into no more detail than that. That is worrying.

Dr. Palmer: My hon. Friend refers to a trivial charge, but is he aware of the one and three-year limits?

Mr. Hopkins: I do not want to go into detail. We should not exaggerate too much, but a local criminal fraternity with a clever lawyer and the police force in its pocket could indulge in practices about which we were unhappy.

It is often said that difficult cases make bad law. However, draconian changes to the law should be tested through theoretical examples. The theoretical case that I am suggesting may not even be that difficult, but such possibilities must be raised in a proper debate and taken into account when any change is made.

One way forward might be for the senior police officer to say, ''Let's have the arrangement only with countries whose judiciaries and police forces we can trust.'' However, we will not be able to trust the legal systems in all countries. We will be happy when the police force and judiciary in every country are as splendid as ours—although mistakes have occasionally been made even in Britain.

Other possibilities worry me. Governments must occasionally stand for re-election, and rather unpleasant political parties have put themselves forward in some EU countries. In many ways, Austria is a splendid country, but an unpleasant party shared power there at one time. One can see laws being introduced that might appeal to those with right-wing Conservative views, but not to me or to many of my constituents. Such parties could introduce authoritarian laws concerning matters that we do not think are important, but they do. We might then have to extradite people to countries of which we did not approve. We are careful about where we extradite people to: we do not extradite them to countries that do not have democratic Governments, or which have brutal treatments for offences such as adultery. We make sure that we do not let people go back to countries where they might suffer a terrible fate.

Even within the EU, however, there are concerns. I have concerns and I want to be reassured. It is not appropriate for the Committee to make such a decision. I shall vote for the motion, but only because it uses the words ''take note''. I take note of the document with interest, but I shall want a lot of reassurance from the Minister and the Government before I am happy for us to support such a dramatic change in the law.

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6.29 pm

Mr. Wilkinson: When I studied history a long time ago, I often wondered how Members of Parliament must have felt before the civil war in the 17th century. How must our counterparts have felt in Germany in the early 1930s, in eastern Europe in the brief interlude before the Communists took power after the second world war, or in the colonies during the American revolution? Things are happening in Parliament in these days that our constituents would find profoundly offensive if they had the time and will to think about them deeply enough.

The proposals in the draft framework decision are a blow to the fundamental liberties that we have enjoyed under British law for centuries. The maintenance of our liberties and freedom is a tradition that has suffused, inspired and guided all our previous work. But now, the deliberate obliteration of all that by European Union diktat seems to have the acquiescence of Her Majesty's Government—or perhaps even more than that, because the motion includes the phrase

    ''supports the Government's active participation''.

The Committee should be discussing the exact proposed framework directive, but we are not, because it is an evolving procedure and we are merely being asked to support Her Majesty's Government's participation in the debate. As the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) said, we are invited only to take note. There is nothing unusual about that. In all our deliberations in European Standing Committee B, we are only ever invited to take note. If we were not to take note, Her Majesty's Government would move the motion on the Floor of the House and it would be nodded through without further debate. That is utterly preposterous.

The final line of the motion refers to

    ''the basis of the principles of mutual recognition.''

That goes to the heart of the issue. The abolition of the principle of dual criminality makes the proposals utterly obnoxious. Why should our citizens, who have enjoyed liberties second to none, be held culpable by other legal jurisdictions that are, in many cases, inferior to ours?

Dr. Palmer: Will the hon. Gentleman be a little more precise? Which countries' jurisdictions does he believe are inferior to our own?

Mr. Wilkinson: I imagine that the plane-spotters in Greece are thinking just that at this very moment. I do not need to say more. Many of us have received letters from constituents who have fallen foul of local laws in European Union countries, and have not emerged happier for the experience.

David Cairns: Is the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument that British citizens should be exempt from the consequences of any act that may be deemed illegal by the foreign territory where it is committed, or that they should be tried only once they have returned to this country?

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Mr. Wilkinson: No, it is not. If a British citizen is arrested in a European Union country for committing an act that is an offence in that country, he or she must stand trial for it in that country. But if the British citizen returns to the UK, and the alleged offence is not considered to be a criminal act in the UK, then extradition should not apply.

I understand that the Government justify the whole procedure to which the motion relates on the basis of the reaction to the terrorist atrocities in the United States on 11 September—but most of the draft proposals deal with other things. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells so eloquently said, article 22 is a catch-all provision, because it is all too likely that a rogue judge could be induced to issue an arrest warrant for British citizens in southern Italy, for example, and that if a prosecution were not secured, the charge could be changed. The charge might start out as fraud, but if that did not work, it could be changed to corruption or swindling. What about so-called football hooligans who get overexcited and are accused of racism and xenophobia? Xenophobia is a passive condition. Incitement to racial hatred is an offence, of course, but not liking strangers very much is not an offence under British law, and we should not be subject to these obnoxious provisions.

 
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Prepared 10 December 2001