Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General
Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, Labour)
This was clearly not an easy decision for the Home Secretary to make. I know that she has asked for additional legal advice, medical advice and other evidence over the two and a half years in which she has had to consider this matter. That is testimony to the difficulties she has faced and to the challenges of the case. I have not seen any of the papers—the legal advice, the criminal evidence or the medical evidence—and it is for the Home Secretary alone to make a judgment that people will respect. She will know that it is not for me to second-guess her decision on this matter today. I do, however, want to ask her about the wider reforms that she has proposed, and also about the consequences of this judgment for other cases.
Let me first ask the right hon. Lady about the forum bar that she has proposed. As she will know, the last Government legislated for a forum bar, but the legislation has not been implemented. I think that that is because of concerns raised not only by Scott Baker but by the present and the last Government about some of the practical implications. Clearly delays, and the risk of delays, are important issues, but we shall be happy to work on the detail with the Home Secretary, through Parliament, and to discuss how the problems could be solved. However, I think that there is a wider issue that may not yet have been considered in the legal debate about forum bars. I refer to internet crimes, which constitute a growing proportion of overall crime. Conceivably such crimes could be committed in several jurisdictions at once. Wider discussions are needed about where they should be dealt with, and about ways in which our traditional extradition arrangements may not have caught up with a different kind of crime that is going to increase.
There will clearly need to be international co-operation and consideration of how the problem should be addressed. I urge the Home Secretary to set up a high-level group with the United States, the European Union and other main countries with which we have arrangements specifically to consider internet crimes. However, I should like to know whether she feels able to do that, given her diplomatic relations with other countries.
We need a fair framework for justice in relation to cross-border crimes. We need to be able to bring people back to Britain to face justice, and we need a fair framework for extraditions from the UK. However, that fair framework will be possible only if it is drawn up through negotiation and co-operation with other countries. As the Home Secretary will know, there is already considerable concern about whether her approach to the EU, the opting out and opting in and the current relationship between the Government and the EU will make it harder to secure the sensible reforms of the European arrest warrant that we need.
Obviously our historic relationship with the United States gives us an opportunity to work together, whether on the bilateral protocol to which the right hon. Lady referred or on other arrangements. May I ask her whether there is a positive relationship between the Home Office and the US Government to ensure that such arrangements and reforms can be agreed to?
May I also ask whether today’s judgment has implications for other cases? Other people who are subject to extradition or immigration proceedings cite medical conditions as a reason for them not to be extradited. It would be useful for Parliament and the courts to understand the test that the right hon. Lady has applied, and to know whether it will set precedents for other cases.
Have the right hon. Lady’s medical advisers proposed any threshold for these decisions? She said that she had sought her own medical advice. Did that constitute a separate medical assessment of Gary McKinnon, which I understand she had sought, or a review of the assessment made by his doctors? Does the test have any implications or set any precedent for other extradition cases, such as the case of Haroon Rashid Aswat? The US Government have sought his extradition alongside that of Abu Hamza and others which the Home Secretary has supported. He is in Broadmoor at present, having, I understand, been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Has the Home Secretary changed her position on his case, or does it remain the same? Clearly there were issues involving his medical condition that she had to consider. Finally, let me ask her about the case of Richard O’Dwyer, whose extradition she has confirmed and who has not raised any medical issues. Will his case be affected by any of the changes that she has announced today?
I agree with the right hon. Lady that it is sensible to remove the role of the Home Secretary from decisions such as this. It has taken a very long time for this decision to be made. I think we would all agree that such cases take too long, and that it is in the interests of justice, the families involved and the victims of crimes for them to be dealt with far more speedily.