Police and Justice Bill
Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office; Labour)
I say straight away that the Government share the feeling of frustration, if not irritation, that the treaty has not been ratified. There are certain myths that I would like to put to rest. Before I attempt to do so, I thank all noble Lords who have showered me with compliments on my ability to persuade, having by the content of their remarks demonstrated my total lack of it.
I turn to the issues raised first by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and then by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I say straight away that both noble Lords have conflated two arguments—the first should properly relate to the Act and the second relates to the treaty. The first myth—I believe it is a myth—is that the Extradition Act 2003 was intended solely or primarily to deal with terrorism. That point was highlighted in today's debate by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, among others. I say as gently as I can that that simply is not true. The Act covers all manner of crime that is serious enough to attract a maximum sentence of at least 12 months in prison.
I am sure that noble Lords will remember that we first started to consult comprehensively on this part in March 2001, prior to the 9/11 atrocity. Its origins lay partly in the early development of the European arrest warrant in 1999 and largely in the need to update an extradition system that dated from 1870, the time of Gladstone. It indicated that the old system was, if I may use the phrase, no longer fit for purpose at the advent of the 21st century, when crime had become ever more global. There are, even now, cases which have been going on for years under the old legislation. Many noble Lords remember the case of Ramda, in which it took over 10 years to extradite to France an individual alleged to have been a terrorist who blew up the St Michel metro station in Paris. Subsequently that individual has been dealt with.
The Home Office review published in 2001 set out the basics of what would become the new Act. Although much has been made of white-collar crime, your Lordships will remember that fraud cases, which are the majority of the cases under the new Act, are a much wider offence than the limited nature of offences to which the article in the Times referred. The cases range from murder, rape, drugs, money laundering, child pornography and robbery to sexual offences in relation to children and so on.
The second myth, implicit in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is that the US needs to provide us with next to none or no information when making a request. That is not accurate either. To substantiate an application for extradition, the United States has to satisfy the provisions in Section 71 of the Act. I remind the Committee, just in case this has been expunged from noble Lords' memory, that Section 71 provides that:
"The judge may issue a warrant for the arrest of the person whose extradition is requested if the judge has reasonable grounds for believing...that the offence in respect of which extradition is requested is an extradition offence, and...there is evidence falling within subsection (3)".
Subsection (3) outlines the precise evidence, and that is,
"evidence that would justify the issue of a warrant for the arrest of a person accused of the offence within the judge's jurisdiction, if the person whose extradition is requested is accused of the commission of the offence...[or] evidence that would justify the issue of a warrant for the arrest of a person unlawfully at large after conviction of the offence within the judge's jurisdiction, if the person whose extradition is requested is alleged to be unlawfully at large after conviction of the offence".
That test is similar, although not identical, to probable cause. But it goes further: in order for the United States to make a request to us, they have to satisfy themselves that in accordance with their law, there is sufficient evidence to establish probable cause. So, before it is entitled to issue a warrant or make an application for the extradition, that test has to be made, and all the requests made of us by the US must satisfy its test of probable cause. That is the evidence that it sends to us.