European Arrest Warrant and Surrender Procedures Between Member States

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Dr. Palmer: Having accepted—unlike his colleague the hon. Member for Surrey Heath—that European courts have jurisdiction in their own countries, is the hon. Gentleman now saying that this is a question not of liberty but of geography, and that what matters is where the suspect happens to be at the time?

Mr. Wilkinson: I never said that foreign countries did not have jurisdiction in their own territory. They do, under their own laws. A British citizen who goes abroad and allegedly commits an offence abroad should be tried abroad. I am saying that if the alleged offence is not an offence under British law, the accused should not find himself subject to extradition proceedings when he returns to the UK. There is nothing complicated about that. The question of safeguards is fundamental. To me, 30 days seems an inordinately short time for the execution of a warrant and extradition proceedings. There are good reasons why the due processes could take much longer—a multitude of evidence might be required, or witnesses might need to be brought to substantiate a defendant's claims. The time limit is high-handed and unnecessary.

Lastly, in cases in which multiple jurisdictions are seeking to extradite an individual and there is a contradiction or a dispute about which jurisdiction the individual should be extradited to, Eurojust seems to have the last word. Eurojust seems to me to be a contradiction in terms. I shall be glad if the Minister can let me know what it is and what it does. Do our citizens know that? I doubt it very much.

The document should have been debated in a proper fashion on the Floor of the House. I shall not vote to take note of it—but I doubt whether the Government will take note of my not taking note.

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David Cairns: I support the motion and the action being taken in moving towards the common European arrest warrant. I also understand the frustration of the Minister, who must deal with the current situation. We have not discussed that; we are here to scrutinise proposed changes to it. He is right to draw our attention to the anomalies and difficulties in the present situation and the frustrations and evasions of justice that it allows. I am concerned about the terms in which much of the argument has been couched. We have cast rather a lot of stones from our glass house today, and the notion that, almost uniquely—although we may just allow a few other countries into our club—we have a perfect system of law completely above and beyond any influence other than the purest interpretation of due process, is nauseating.

Mrs. Dunwoody: Could my hon. Friend not even vaguely entertain the idea that objections to removing safeguards for British citizens grow not out of the artificial objections that he has just given, but from the basic desire to protect British citizens?

David Cairns: I could admit that. If the hon. Lady—

Mrs. Dunwoody: I am your friend.

David Cairns: If my hon. Friend—I am sorry I did not call her that—makes that case I shall certainly listen closely. She has not yet spoken, and I am responding to other speeches that I have heard, which have not made that case, but have argued that we have a better system of law than everybody else, so we should not be extraditing anyone to anywhere. That is what I have heard. If I am wrong, I am sure that my hon. Friend will correct that when she speaks.

Other countries might look at our record of gross miscarriages of justice in recent years and have very strong doubts about extraditing anyone to this country. Examples such as the Birmingham six, the Guildford four and many others might be debated, perhaps with more validity, in other countries whose Parliaments are currently subjecting the issue to scrutiny.

Our system, or rather systems, of justice—as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey pointed out, we have more than one criminal justice system—are at least on a par with those of Europe. I make no claim that we operate on an elevated level and cannot trust foreigners to dispense justice. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath asked a question using the example of a corrupt Sicilian magistrate under the control of the mafia. I appreciate that that was an example, but it was particularly ill chosen. Is he aware that it was because of the courage of those very magistrates that the back of the mafia was broken in Sicily? Those brave magistrates paid for their commitment to justice and the rule of law with their lives. That they should be disparaged in this Committee is disgraceful, and I hope that other hon. Members will not join in disparaging them.

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Mr. Hawkins: I just want to set the record straight. I was simply citing an example to show that if, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will concede has happened in the past, a magistrate were under the control of the mafia, any request for extradition issued by such a corrupt magistrate would be open to the gravest suspicion. I share in his tribute to those who bravely stood out against the mafia. Any politician in this country would. Nevertheless, one can envisage—because it is documented as having happened, and not only in Sicily—that organised crime could take control of parts of a judicial system. That is the danger.

David Cairns: I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has clarified his remarks by paying tribute to the magistrates in question, but I still think that considering all the areas of Europe that he could have chosen, he picked a poor example.

It has been mentioned that we are being invited to make concessions, whether those are good, as I believe they are, or bad, as other hon. Members will contend. None the less, we have not adequately acknowledged the fact that our European Union partners are being asked to make concessions at least as great. The Minister mentioned that some countries, unlike the UK, do not let their nationals be extradited. The fact that they are now prepared to do that is an enormous step. We should pay tribute to that; those countries are our partners.

We are, after all, considering extraditing people so that they can stand trial. We are not conceding a warrant to allow British citizens to be taken abroad and thrown in dungeons, with the keys thrown away, without due process of law. If, as he said in response to my intervention, the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood accepts that other countries have a perfect right to bring people to trial in their territory for offences committed there, it seems to me that he should accept their right to apply for extradition of those who have evaded justice while in that territory, and our right to co-operate, if we accept the legality and robustness of their legal system.

The case of the plane-spotters in Greece has been mentioned. From what I have read of the case I strongly believe, as I expect do all members of the Committee, that those concerned are innocent. As an aviation enthusiast, although not a plane-spotter, I am sure that they were engaged in a harmless and peaceful activity. None the less, we must look at the matter to some extent from the Greeks' point of view. If people turned up in our country, if there were no tradition of plane-spotting here, and began taking photographs of our military aircraft, noting their taking off and landing and their registrations and types, there would be at least a prima facie case to be investigated. I hope that when the case is investigated the people concerned will be released, as we all believe that they are innocent. However, I do not accept the idea that there is no prima facie case, and that people are simply being banged up on the say-so of some dodgy Greek.

Mr. Cameron: Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the time that elapsed between incarceration and charges—

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Mr. Maples: Those people have not been charged yet.

Mr. Cameron: My hon. Friend says that they have not been charged yet. Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied, in that case? That is what we are talking about. People can be locked up and the key thrown away for many weeks. That is what we are allowing here.

David Cairns: That is not the case. When those people committed that offence—[Hon. Members: ''Oh!'']. If such an offence was committed, it was committed in Greece, and they were apprehended in Greece. The Greek law is running its ordinary course. That does not apply here. We are talking about people being extradited on specific charges. As I understand it, that is when the European arrest warrant will come into force. We are not talking about the same issues.

For the avoidance of doubt, I reiterate that I believe in the innocence of those people, but I think that there is a prima facie case for investigation.

Mr. Hawkins: The hon. Gentleman fails to understand the concerns of Opposition Members, which some of his hon. Friends may share. We are not happy to contemplate, on behalf of our constituents, the suggestion that people could be extradited to other EU countries with justice systems under which those whose innocence or otherwise has not been established can find themselves in custody for many weeks before being charged. That goes to the heart of why we do not think it appropriate to have an EU arrest warrant that might condemn our entirely innocent constituents to such incarceration before any charge has even been laid.

David Cairns: I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's point. My understanding, however, is that when an arrest warrant is issued it will be issued on the back of specific charges. We are not, therefore, comparing like with like. I may be wrong on that point; perhaps the Minister will clarify it.

Mr. Wilkinson rose—

David Cairns: I will give way, for the last time.

Mr. Wilkinson: Does the hon. Gentleman think that if a constituent of his does rather well out of a dodgy deal with a Sicilian business man, then finds himself subject to a charge of swindling or illicit trafficking in cultural goods, that would be a specific charge?

 
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