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Standing Committee D
Tuesday 14 January 2003
[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair]
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I beg to move amendment No. 95, in
clause 17, page 7, line 36, leave out paragraph (c).
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment No. 94, in
clause 17, page 7, line 41, leave out paragraphs (e) and (f).
Mr. Hawkins: Good morning Mr. O'Hara. Welcome back. We now turn to the rather arcane subject of speciality. As the Government's explanatory notes make clear:
''The speciality rule is a long-standing protection in extradition. It prohibits a person from being prosecuted after his extradition for an offence committed beforehand, unless the offence is the one in respect of which he was extradited, the consent of the requested state is obtained or the person has had an opportunity to leave the country to which he was extradited.''
The clause bars extradition if there are no speciality arrangements with the category 1 territory where the part 1 warrant was issued.
Our amendments are based on advice from the extradition specialists at the Law Society of England and Wales. The fact that extradition can be ordered with no clear obligation on the state to inform the person or no positive obligation to give the person who is the subject of extradition an opportunity to make representations suggests that representations from one set of proceedings can be imported wholesale into new proceedings. An English or Scottish judge could safely make an order as if there could be nothing further to add. The Law Society makes the point, with which we strongly agree, that anyone who may be subject to extradition must be informed of every set of separate proceedings and be given an opportunity to address or instruct a representative to address the court on the matter before that court.
The problems that this subject throws up is once again highlighted by the specialist extradition solicitor Robert Roscoe, to whom I referred last week. He has given me some examples of cases that he and his firm have taken up with the Home Office and about which they have never received proper answers. I should stress at the outset that the cases to which I shall refer briefly do not directly involve speciality, but they highlight the problems that can be encountered with requesting states and show why someone who may be facing extradition needs to be told about every separate set of proceedings.
I start off with a case of the Government of Belgium against a man called Cornelius Mahu. Mr. Mahu, who is a Dutch citizen, was visiting his child in England. He
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was arrested in connection with allegations of drug trafficking offences. He had formerly been a public house landlord in this country and as such had been checked by the Kent police. He held a justices on-licence to be a landlord. A lorry driver who was arrested in Belgium had alleged to the Belgian authorities that the recipient of earlier deliveries of drugs was this man, Mr. Mahu.
Mr. Mahu was confident that there would be no evidence to support those allegations. He went through the extradition proceedings in this country as quickly as he could, but there were protracted delays before he could ultimately be returned to Belgium. The UK had the burden of having to maintain him in custody for some 18 weeks. Mr. Mahu finally went to Belgium, but within a few weeks of his arrival the Belgian court directed that charges be dropped against him and seven of the other nine people who were the subject of the original allegations. That appeared to be fine, at least as far as Mr. Mahu was concerned. However, when Mr. Roscoe and his firm of solicitors took the case up with the Home Office as an example of what can go wrong, the delays and the cost to the United Kingdom taxpayer, the Home Office responded:
''We similarly approached the Belgian authorities and they informed us on 8 May last year that preliminary investigations regarding Cornelius Mahu and another case Mr. Roscoe raised are still ongoing. The case will shortly be submitted to the office of the public prosecutor in Belgium.''
Mr. Roscoe and his firm replied back to the Home Office:
''As we indicated in our letter of 13 February, both Mr. Mahu''
and the other person whom they were writing about
''were released within days of their return to Belgium. Mr. Mahu returned to Holland. If the letter of 8 May 2002 from the Belgian embassy is correct, then in both cases the Belgian investigations are incomplete and extradition proceedings will have to be started afresh in the event that the examining magistrate's report is considered by the public prosecutor to justify the institution of charges against Mr. Mahu''
The significance of speciality arises at this point, because the requesting state—a fellow European Union member—is apparently saying that it may well start proceedings again, even though the charges have been dropped and the person has been released. Surely it is a matter of concern if the Government allow the legislation to stay in its current form, suggesting that fresh proceedings can be, as the Law Society puts it, imported wholesale into the existing proceedings without the defendant having a full opportunity to have the whole matter made known to him.
The Opposition strongly support what the Law Society has suggested to us, and I hope that the example that I have given is helpful. I stress to the Minister and his advisers that we were serious in tabling the amendments.
Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): I join the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) in supporting amendments Nos. 95 and 94. I shall not dwell further on the Mahu case, or give another definition of what speciality involves, but that case
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concerned an extremely important principle and an extremely important protection for individuals.
The provision proposes that extradition can be ordered with no obligation to inform the person or no positive obligation to give a person the opportunity to make representations. The procedure suggests an assumption that representations from one set of proceedings can be imported wholesale into new proceedings, and that a judge can safely make an order as if there were nothing further to add. The Liberal Democrats believe that the suspect must be informed, as the hon. Gentleman said, at every set of proceedings and be given an opportunity to address, or instruct a representative to address, the court on the matter before it.
On amendment No. 94, we have concerns, which the Law Society shares, that there can be charges in respect of offences that fall into this category without the protections contained in the extradition procedures. The community or financial penalty may be extremely burdensome.
I also wish to comment on taxation. The Inland Revenue does not have an enviable record of successful prosecutions, as the leading case of Inland Revenue Commissioners v. Dodd illustrates, but although it is always quite difficult to secure a successful prosecution for the Revenue, that does happen. One of the more nebulous of the 32 offences is swindling. Some countries, including, I believe, Spain, are not minded to extradite on the grounds of tax fraud. What discussions on tax fraud have taken place and with which countries, and what agreements or understandings are there?
Imposition may be a primary objective of the requesting state, so the procedure is open to abuse in the freezing of assets and the imposition of financial penalties. There is no mechanism or protection to guard against extradition only for proceedings in relation to extraneous considerations in clause 13. Unassociated proceedings may therefore last a considerable time and cause prolonged disruption to the suspect's life and career.
I look forward to the Minister's response.
Mr. Hawkins: I should have said that we recognise that the Liberal Democrats added their names to both amendments. As the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) said, the Law Society has equally strong views about amendment No. 94.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): The clause relates to the rule of speciality, under which a person cannot be prosecuted for an offence other than the one for which he was extradited once he has been extradited to another country.
We had some doubt about whether amendment No. 95 was the right amendment. It would remove the possibility of another state being able to prosecute a person for an additional offence, even with the consent of the district judge after a hearing. There is no reason to do that. Speciality waivers, although rare, are a
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long-standing feature of our extradition arrangements, and we should not create a situation in which we cannot agree to a request to put on trial someone who has been extradited from the United Kingdom if evidence comes to light that they are guilty of a different serious crime. I listened carefully to the example given by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. He admitted that it was not about speciality, but said that it highlighted a problem that may occur.
Speciality would not give other countries the ability that the hon. Gentleman alleges in the circumstances that he described to the Committee. All the evidence that he cited suggested that, in the case of a close European partner, justice would be served by making our lines of communication as short as possible and returning the person to that country as quickly as possible, where the case against him could be quickly dismissed. Under the existing arrangements, if the Belgian authorities wanted to make a fresh application in that case, they would have to make it to the country to which the person had returned, so they would have to reapply to the Dutch. I do not accept the lesson that the hon. Gentleman is giving.
I do not know the details of individual cases that are raised in Committee, but it is as likely that the problem was caused by long lines of communication as by our long-winded extradition arrangements before the introduction of the Bill. It is not likely that any problem would occur because of the current speciality agreement or the speciality agreement that will exist once the Bill has been enacted.
The framework decision allows countries to declare that other countries that make a similar declaration can, after extradition, presume our consent to a person being prosecuted for offences committed before the extradition took place but that were not part of the original request. It was, and is, our intention to make such a declaration. Requests for waiver of speciality and re-extradition are not common. However, if such requests are received, our response should be guided by the principles of mutual recognition. I believe that we can trust our EU partners not to abuse the trust that we place in them. They are all signatories to the European convention on human rights, which guarantees a fair trial.
Amendment No. 94 would remove the ability of the requesting state to prosecute for offences not punishable by imprisonment without the UK's consent. Let us suppose that we returned a person to stand trial for a very serious offence, and that, once the person had returned, the requesting state discovered that he had committed a string of minor offences. The amendment proposes that those offences should be subject to an entirely separate extradition request, and that they cannot be dealt with as part of the case being heard against the returned offender.