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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my honourable friend Mr Mullin on the imprisonment and trial of two UK nationals in Guantanamo Bay. The Statement is as follows:
"So far, neither of the detainees has been charged. However, we have made clear to the US that we expect the process to meet internationally accepted standards for a fair trial. We will follow the process very carefully. The US is aware of our fundamental opposition to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances. If there is any suggestion that the death penalty might be sought in these cases, we would raise the strongest possible objections with the US".
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement from another place. I did not see the text in advance, which I understand. This is an answer to an urgent Question in the other place. However, I am aware of how strongly the Minister feels about the matter. I know that she feels concern that we all share about what is now proposed.
We understand why prisoners have been taken to Guantanamo Bay and why their rights have been suspended for a time. These are people who are suspected of revolting and evil acts and I have no doubt that it was hopedit may still be hopedthat they could reveal details about other atrocities both in the past and to be completed, which would save many human lives.
That time has now passed, however, and there is talk about trials before a military commission or tribunal. It is right for us to pursue questions now that this talk has arisen. What has actually been agreed with the American Government about the procedures to be adopted? How will they work? When will they start? What sort of legal representation will the detainees have and what are the charges? Are they to be charged with treason or something different?
Will we remind our American allies, who fought bravely and understandably in Afghanistan and suffered the most dreadful injuries two years ago, that they need to work together with their coalition partners? They should not be surprised if things go wrong when they do not work closely together. The Americans are refreshingly outspoken about our affairs, which I welcome. However, why should we not be equally firm and outspoken about theirsalthough always, of course, in the friendliest possible way?
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, my understanding has always been that one of the pillars of the attitudes and civil rights of this country is that people are innocent until they are found guilty. That is a fundamental principle and many of us are delighted that the Minister has made that clear. However, first, is the House aware that these men do not know what charges they face? They have not been told. Secondly, is the House aware that, if they are found guilty, they may face the death penalty, which this country has decided no longer to accept? Thirdly, is the House aware that, if these men are found not guilty, they will not be acquitted and released but will be retained as enemy combatants for whatever length of time the US chooses to detain them?
Finally, is the House aware that the UK and the US are both signatories to United Nations conventions that absolutely guarantee the right to a fair trial, the right to defence and the right to access to lawyers by any country that is a signatory? Will the Minister tell us whether, given what good allies we have been to the US, the Prime Minister will raise this matter at the highest level, with the President of the US?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, for their interventions. I am sorry that there was no advance text. However, the Statement that I repeated to your Lordships was very simple and straightforward. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, was kind enough to acknowledge, it was made in response to an urgent Question in another place.
We must be clear on one point: there are no charges laid against either of the British nationals at the moment. There has been a designation by the United States that has cleared the way to possible charges against the six named individuals. There must be a separate decision about whether any charges will be laid and go forward to a trial. I do not want to mislead any of your Lordships. It is probably logical to believe that such charges will be laid, but I stress to your Lordships that part of the reason why they do not know what the charges are is that they have not been laid at the moment.
I agree absolutely with the noble Lord's points about terrorism. Some appalling and terrible atrocities have been committed in several countries. We should never forget that people have suffered. We must do what we can to expunge it from the international arsenal of what is available to people who do not want to conform to the ways in which most of us are able to do business with each other. However, it is important to come back to the fundamental point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby: those individuals are innocent until they are proved guilty before a court of law.
The individuals concerned have been a long time in a legal limbo in Guantanamo Bay. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said that it would be unsatisfactory to go on not being clear about how anybody would be brought to trial. What can, at least, be said about the events of last Thursday and Friday is that some clarity has been brought to bear on the situation, but it is difficult not to have strong reservations about the way in which the United States proposes to proceed with the trials.
The noble Lord asked me what had been agreed. Little has been agreed about the trials. The United States has published its proposals and has said that it will engage with us on the matter. We propose to engage rigorously with it. We shall press the United States authorities for the internationally recognised remit over a fair trial and such things as the right to defence lawyers, the right to see the evidence that will be adduced against those who are to go before a court, the right to an appeals system and the right to have as open a trial as possible. I readily acknowledge that it is not easy to have an absolutely open trial, if matters relating to national or international security have to be dealt with in some detail. We are familiar with procedures under which a court can sit in camera to hear matters of great sensitivity that may impinge on national security.
I agree that we must be firm with the United States and friendly with the United States. I believe that putting our points vigorously to the United States is important for the United States itself. It is enormously important that, in a procedure in which, we are told, the death penalty may be availablethat is a matter for the military commissionthe United States leaves no stone unturned in ensuring that the trials are recognised as being as fair and open and as much in conformity with internationally recognised standards for fair trials as is humanly possible.
The noble Baroness raised the question of the death penalty. I regret to say that that penalty is still open to the commission. We have made our views on that abundantly clear, and we shall go on doing so.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the Government have pressed the United States Government to accept that lawyers chosen by the individuals, in the event of a trial, should be allowed to represent them, rather than lawyers allocated by the US military? Have the Government pressed for international observersBritish observers, certainlyat any such trial? If not, will they do so? Has my noble friend any idea whether there are any rights of appeal against a decision by such a military tribunal?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have raised and are raising the issue of legal representation. As it stands, the legal representation has been selected by the United States Government from Department of Defense lawyers. As I understand it, it may be possible for other lawyers to be retained by anybody who goes to trial, but, again as I understand the current proposals, such other lawyers would have to be United States citizens. That might be a question of how United States lawyers deal with United States courts, which may be consonant with the way in which the United States operates in respect of criminal trials. In addition, any such lawyers would need heavy security clearance, and there are some questions that we would want to raise about the ways in which they would communicate. There are quite a number of issues relating to legal representation.
The question of having international observers has been discussed. The United States Government have agreed that there should be some international observers, but we need to explore further with the United States authorities how that might work. At the moment, I understand that the rights of appeal that are being suggested are ones within the Department of Defense.
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