Lord Goodhart (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of Fair Trials Abroad. On this occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, will find me much more supportive than I was on his first group of amendments. While my support might not necessarily go so far as to support him in the Division Lobby if he chooses to divide the House, the principle behind these amendments is absolutely vital.
Fair Trials Abroad has found that the two main problems encountered by people facing trial in foreign countries, in particular in the European Union, are the absence of proper legal aid and the lack of competent translation and interpretation facilities. I wish to make a minor point: I would not go so far as to say that simultaneous interpretation is necessary. That would require fairly high-powered electronic equipment to be made available in each courtroom. I should have thought that competent sequential translation would be adequate. However, there is no doubt that the absence of legal aid and lack of interpretation facilities are serious problems.
I recognise that both elements are referred to specifically in Article 6.3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. If it becomes apparent that in certain countries the rights of people who are extradited are not being respected, then obviously it will be possible, under the terms of Clause 21, to object to extradition on the grounds that the convention rights of the person to be extradited will not be met. That will depend on evidence being provided to establish a case for that purpose.
I regret that it did not prove possible to reach a European framework decision on minimum standards of procedure. That would have provided a valuable balance to the contents of the European framework decision that led to the European arrest warrant.
I would be even more enthusiastic about the idea of establishing "Euro bail", because that issue causes real hardship in a significant number of cases. There is no doubt that in a number of countries there is a natural tendency not to grant bail to someone who is a foreigner and who may therefore disappear home. The country could not be certain of getting the person back, and even if it did get him back it would be only after a lengthy struggle. If that is coupled with lengthy periods of detention before trial, the problem would be doubled.
Certainly Fair Trials Abroad has come across a number of cases where people have been detained for very long periods before trial, at the end of which sometimes they have been found innocent. Particular problems have arisen in Spain with cases involving lorry drivers. From time to time, lorry drivers are found transporting drugs or other contraband in the backs of their lorries which they claim—sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly—they have been carrying without their knowledge. They are detained for long periods in a foreign country; they are not given bail, and often their families cannot afford to travel out to the country to visit them, which increases their hardship yet further.
I understand that discussions are being held with the countries of the European Union which seek to establish some kind of Euro bail system, but that they are still at a preliminary stage. It is important that those talks should be pressed and I hope very much that the Government will be able to express their intention to push for a Euro bail system. It would mean that if someone jumps bail, they would be automatically returned to the country from which they were bailed. In due course—I hope sooner rather than later—I hope that we will be able to establish a Euro bail system.