Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I did not hear, in the Minister's peroration, whether she answered my straightforward question whether we are the only country that says 12 months rather than three years. Most other EU states have not yet published detailed legislation. However, of those who have, none has sought to go beyond the framework decision on this point. It is right to tell the Committee that we have been in the advance in working out how the arrangements will work.

1 Jul 2003 : Column GC215

Members of the Committee will know that one of the projects in which we participated involved working very closely with our Spanish colleagues to work out a process in which the European arrest warrant would work, using judicial co-operation very creatively, video conferencing and other such approaches. Many of our partners are not as far advanced in this area as we are. I do not know of any other country in our position. We have made our decision objectively on the basis of what we believe to be right for us.

Viscount Bledisloe: The noble Baroness did not deal with my suggestion that we reduce the period only when we get reciprocity from another country to deal with it. I wish to question one point that she made. I think that she suggested that, if the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, were agreed, you could only extradite for an offence on the list that attracted a sentence of at least three years. I do not think that that is right. Surely subsection (3) could be applied, provided that the offence satisfied the conditions for dual criminality, saying, "I agree that the offence does not within subsection (2), but I can extradite you under subsection (3) and show dual criminality".

The only difference would be that you could not extradite for non-dual criminal offences attracting a sentence of fewer than three years. In such instances, you might not know. It would be a ridiculous anomaly if someone would escape completely if the offence was on the list and fell within the 12-month and three-year brackets.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The noble Viscount is right. We were talking about cases where dual criminality would have to be satisfied and where it would not. You could still extradite where there is dual criminality.

On reciprocity, we have made an objective assessment as to whether we are minded to permit extradition where offences attract a sentence of one year or more, irrespective of the position that may appertain in relation to the other country. Members of the Committee will remember that we have taken the same stance in respect of the United States of America and other issues. We have taken an objective decision of whether we are willing to do it. We must come back to the words,


    "to thine own self be true . . . Thou canst not then be false to any man".

We work by what we think is right as opposed to saying, "I will only do what my partner will do. If my partner will do nothing, I will be content to remain with them". We part company. We objectively assess what is right, what is proper and what inures to the benefit of Britain. If others wish to join us, we will welcome them with open arms.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: The Minister is being extremely firm. But I wonder whether in September, when the House returns, she will be quite so pleased that she was firm. I prophesise that the provision will

1 Jul 2003 : Column GC216

cause considerable controversy on the Floor of the House. I speak in these debates with great hesitation, as a non-lawyer. I know that I frequently make incorrect points, but I am deeply interested in the subject and deeply concerned about the Bill.

The Minister ended her first speech with a phrase that is often used in Committees: "You say one thing, someone else says another, but we think that we have pitched it about right". The Minister said that she thought the Government had pitched it about right at one year. I do not know how you could get much lower than one year; it is the most hard-line approach that could have been taken.

As one anticipated, the Minister seems to have based her argument on the fact that the threshold was one year under the system applied in this country historically and that it would be wrong to change it now. But we are in a new system in which the whole point is to speed up extradition and to reduce certain legal processes and safeguards that have been there for the individual facing a request for extradition. If we want a speedier system, it would be logical not to take for granted the one-year threshold but to consider whether it might be higher.

I misunderstood the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, when I first read it. I thought that its purpose was to apply one year to all offences, not just to those where there was no dual criminality. I would go further than he would. But this seems a very modest request that corresponds with the requirements of justice. As the noble Lord said, the whole concept of dual criminality is not without rationale; there is a reason for its existence.

As the Minister gave way just before the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, intervened, she looks at the issue in a very utilitarian way—the trade in people who face extradition requests. That is how some terrible injustices can occur. I have heard sometimes of deals being done between the prosecuting authorities in different countries, with the police in one country saying to those in another, "You give us 'x' and we will give you 'y'". It is not in accordance with the demands of justice that a prosecuting authority should make such a deal. Each case must be looked at on its merits. The Minister is giving a version of that argument, saying that more people will be extradited to this country and we will extradite more people to other countries.

I apologise for repeating myself, but that approach ignores a point that lies at the heart of my concern about the Bill, and, to some extent, at the heart of the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. People who stand trial in another jurisdiction are often at a very considerable disadvantage for the reasons that we explained: the absence of legal aid and translation facilities, the fact that bail is refused and that bail is very important to people when preparing their own defence.

There has been no satisfactory reply to those concerns. But the risk of an injustice occurring is a fundamental point that must be addressed when considering speeding up the extradition process. We

1 Jul 2003 : Column GC217

hear all the time about the number of criminals who will be locked up, but we do not hear a word expressed about people being wrongly convicted, placed at a disadvantage or not understanding what is happening.

We hear continually about reliance on the European Convention on Human Rights. That convention does not provide redress for an individual if he faces a wrong, as it would take years for such a case to be heard. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, puts it so well, the European Convention on Human Rights may be generally observed but not in detail in every country. I know quite a lot about the justice systems of certain countries in Eastern Europe, which I do not wish to name, and that they do not conform with the European Convention on Human Rights.

I know exactly what will happen in a few years' time when we have the order late at night. Even though we will have the affirmative procedure, we will be told that things are all changed and everything is different. I very much doubt whether matters will have moved far forward.

This very modest amendment should be accepted because of the risk of a person being at a disadvantage when standing trial in a foreign jurisdiction. The noble Baroness has not responded to the following question: if it is so unreasonable for the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, to table this amendment, why has every other country in the European Union chosen to stick with three years? Perhaps they have their heads screwed on more than we do and realise that there are risks in speeding up extradition in this way.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: In response to the issue raised previously, we do not know the stance that some of our European colleagues will take because we are all working now to get ready for the implementation of the European arrest warrant. Each of us may well have to decide what position we should take in the interests of our jurisdiction. We have made that decision for ourselves, as is proper. Others may come to a similar conclusion, but they may not.

I shall deal with some of the other very valuable points that the noble Lord made on the interests of justice. We give way to nobody in our adherence to, and concentration on, the interests of justice. The risks to justice in relation to how this procedure will operate are very clear. But we have taken all necessary steps to limit those risks. We have debated them in part already and will continue to do so. But the scheme that we have put in place to ensure that the district judge has all the information that he or she needs to make an informed choice as to whether an arrest warrant should be acted upon is contained in the Bill.

Each case, therefore, will be looked at on its individual merits. This is definitely not a trade in people. But there is an interest in justice to deal with those who have committed an offence in another European country and those who have committed an offence here. As we see in our everyday dealings, the reality of life within the European family is that there is free movement of people. It is one of the huge

1 Jul 2003 : Column GC218

benefits that we have gained from the European Union. That brings with it a multiplicity of benefits but also dangers and disadvantages. As I said earlier, unfortunately, those who wish deliberately to flout the laws of all our countries feel that they can do so now with far greater frequency and facility than ever before. Collectively, European countries must address that. That is what we seek to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, says that some of our EU partners are at different stages along the path. That is true, but dramatic changes have resulted from those countries, particularly applicant states, which, to meet the acquis communautaire, have had to revise their laws and to modernise. They are still seeking assistance in implementation from the United Kingdom and many other countries.

The noble Lord said that I was putting the case very robustly. But this debate is an opportunity for me to explain why we are taking this stance. I make plain what I explained at the previous Committee session: we will consider very carefully everything that Members of the Committee say. If there is cause to reflect further on the matter, we will do so. We must reflect further if we hear points that make us pause.

Members of the Committee have recognised that we have listened carefully on many issues and have come back to say that we are minded to change. At present, we think that we have got this issue right. We will look at what other countries do and continue to think about the matter. But, with the greatest respect, we do not think that we are wrong; we think that we have got the balance about right.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page