Monday 3 December 2001
[Mr. Win Griffiths in the Chair]
European Arrest Warrants and Surrender Procedures between Member States
[Relevant Documents: Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Reports of the European Scrutiny Committee, HC (2001–2002) 152-vi, vii and viii.]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): It is a pleasure to see that you are the Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Griffiths.
The European Scrutiny Committee has taken great care over the detail of the framework decision, and I am sure that I will receive further probing questions from this Committee this afternoon. I shall answer members of the Committee as fully as I can, but I do not think that I shall satisfy them on each point that they make. A framework decision means exactly that. We shall need to work out precisely how we will apply it to legislation in practice. It is our intention to do so in this Session, when we introduce new legislation to reform our extradition arrangements not only with the European Union but across the board.
The framework decision deals with extradition within the European Union. It is right that we should approach our European neighbours, all of which have incorporated the European convention on human rights, on the basis of mutual trust. We should not assume that our criminal justice system is infinitely superior to that of other countries. We badly need a swift, fair system. That is the right route. We do not believe that criminal law should be made the same throughout the European Union, but we do not believe, either, that we can continue with the detailed legal regulations that clog up our extradition process. Much has been made of claims that the offences on the list do have not always have precise counterparts in our law, but, with respect, I must point out that such claims miss the point.
Just as we would expect to frame charges within our national law, we are accepting for the first time that our European partners should be able to frame their charges according to their national law—the law in the country in which someone will be tried—and we would not try to double-guess each detail of such issues. Extradition proceedings are not a mini-trial, and when the trial is to be held in Europe, we should not be looking under every stone to find out how it may allegedly be inadequate.
I deal with individual cases, so I know that at present—10 years after the United Kingdom ratified the European convention on extradition—the Bow street magistrate is still carefully checking antiquated authentication procedures and hearing arguments about whether some of the charges should be dropped, because they do not correspond precisely to offences under our law. Some cases take years to complete, and trials are delayed, to the frustration of many, including the victims.
Although the commitment to the basis of such a step change was made soon after 11 September—it will be agreed upon when the Justice and Home Affairs Ministers meet on Thursday and Friday later this week—much of the preparatory work was done before then. The European arrest warrant is not new. It is a logical step. We accept extradition requests from prosecuting authorities and magistrates in Europe now. Why should we be concerned to check the source of those requests? We do not expect our European partners to query whether our judges are qualified to issue the warrants that form the basis of our extradition requests, so why should we seek to do that in reverse?
We are maintaining core principles: the warrant is to be issued by a judicial authority. It can apply only within the Union and will be executed by a district judge here. As is right, there are tightly defined grounds for refusal, and there will be an appeal against that decision. However, the primary safeguard for the individual is that he or she will be returned to a country that has domestic incorporation of the European convention on human rights in its national law.
If you will allow me, Mr. Griffiths, I must make a correction to a written submission that I gave the European Scrutiny Committee a week or so ago. On 21 November, the Committee asked which system of law would be used to determine whether an act relates to any of the matters in article 2(4), which are:
''abortion, euthanasia, morality, sexuality, or freedom of expression and association.''
On 27 November, I answered:
''Dual criminality would apply, and we expect consideration to be similar to that at present under section 2(2) of the Extradition Act 1989.''
I should have said that dual criminality could apply to requests relating to offences under article 2(4). Obviously, we must finalise that in our legislation. A framework decision gives us the option of whether to apply the dual criminality test or not.
The Chairman: We have until half-past 5 to ask the Minister questions. I remind hon. Members that questions should be brief and asked one at a time. I think that hon. Members will have ample opportunity to ask several questions, provided that we keep to the ''short and concise'' rule.
Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): I have a question for you, Mr. Griffiths, and I hope that you can offer guidance to myself and others.
I did not receive the papers for this Committee last week, as I had expected to. My office had to do a lot of work to chase up and eventually locate them. They did not reach me personally until Friday, which I suggest is too near the date of the Committee to allow ample time for reading—although fortunately, there was not an enormous number of papers to read for this sitting, compared with other sittings. How can we ensure that hon. Members receive papers in sufficient time?
The Chairman: I take note of that point. No doubt the Clerks and Home Office officials will have heard it, too. The papers were a bit late this time, but I am sure that that will not happen again—at least, I hope not.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I do not have millions of questions to ask, so I hope that that will be a consolation for the Minister.
Will the Minister set out the current state of play about derogations from and reservations under the convention by other European Union states? I ask only because, obviously, the position can change all the time. Some of the assurances that people will want are linked to the fact that all the states about which we are concerned are signatories to the European convention on human rights. It would help to know which states have derogations from or reservations under the convention—in addition to that implemented by the United Kingdom the other day—and to which articles such derogations or reservations apply. That might affect our views on whether safeguards are adequate.
Mr. Ainsworth: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is discussing a matter wider than the European arrest warrant. Obviously, we continue to discuss the situation and there are further documents in which there are changes. As there are not substantive issues moving in a direction that would worry the Committee, I was hoping that, in order to keep it simple—and believing that we could address all the issues of principle—we would apply ourselves to the latest English text available to me and the Committee. I am aware that there are on-going discussions, and I do not know how helpful their inclusion would be. We do not have the whole picture.
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): For the first time in this Committee I confess that I am less than happy with my ability to command this subject matter—I am not a lawyer, and I am certainly not a European lawyer. I want to be reassured that, whatever the Committee's decisions or recommendations, subsequent debate when the legislation is introduced in the House will not be prejudiced. I hope that my lawyer friends will have advised me more thoroughly by that time, and I shall be able to make a better assessment of the full implications of the legislation.
Mr. Ainsworth: I am not sure that I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I can certainly assure him to the extent that the framework document will have to be incorporated in our law, and the Bill that incorporates it will be scrutinised by both Houses of Parliament in the normal way. At this point, however, we are of course accepting the principles of the framework document. Therefore, the subsequent law will have to comply with and bring into force those framework decisions. I am afraid, therefore, that this is the House's opportunity to scrutinise the content and requirements of the framework document, although the details of the law will be scrutinised by Parliament in the normal way. We will certainly not be free of the framework document's provisions when we come to frame the law that will subsequently be considered by the House.
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): Will the Minister help me with paragraph 8 of the consultation document published by the Government in March? In discussing fast-track extradition, which has resulted in the European arrest warrant, it states:
''We would welcome views on whether the following should continue to be non-extraditable:
1) Military offences which are not also offences in general criminal law;''—
and, perhaps more importantly—
''iii) Offences which are not offences under the law of the requested state where the requesting state has taken on extra-territorial jurisdiction.''
Clearly, that has been important in one or two recent cases—the Pinochet extradition, for instance, in which a magistrate in Spain sought to exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction. Belgian magistrates have sought to do the same thing. Will the Minister let the Committee know the response to that consultation? What views were expressed to the Home Office? It seems that neither of the offences mentioned has been made an exception in the Council document under discussion. In other words, the European arrest warrant could apply to military offences that are not offences in general criminal law, and to the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction by another country in the European Union. I may be mistaken about that, so perhaps the Minister will draw my attention to the relevant passages in the document. It seems to me that those are significant omissions regarding matters on which consultation was requested.