UK Extradition Arrangements

Part of Backbench Business – in the House of Commons at 8:26 pm on 5th December 2011.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 8:26 pm, 5th December 2011

I am sorry that the authors of the report are not convinced, but it is up to us in this House to try to convince the Government to make those changes. Although I welcome the examination of the issue, as well as this debate, it is absolutely up to us to ensure that that happens.

The second case that I want to mention is that of Julian Assange and the ongoing attempt to extradite him to Sweden. I want to go on to something else in a second, but let me briefly quote Debra Sheehan, who has been campaigning for Mr Assange not to be extradited to Sweden: “I believe this ruling”—the ruling that he can be extradited—

“sets a very dangerous precedent allowing any UK citizen—and possibly any European citizen—to be extradited without charge. Mr Assange’s case shows that the European arrest warrant can be used in a totally disproportionate way without using other less draconian methods of completing police investigations, such as Mutual Legal Assistance.”

The European arrest warrant is a serious issue, because, as others have pointed out, it seems that countries with a far from rigorous, fair and open judicial system can gain arrest warrants against British subjects, who are then taken to a different jurisdiction, where they face a much lower threshold of proof before a conviction is obtained. It is not our business to protect criminals, but it is our business to ensure that people get a fair trial and that there is absolutely the presumption of innocence before any conviction is made.

The third case that I want to mention is that of Babar Ahmad, which was brought up excellently by my friend Caroline Lucas. Yesterday I received an e-mail from his father that I would like to quote from:

“I am writing to request that you attend the debate…and…vote in favour of reforming the laws so that they strengthen the protection for British citizens, such as my son Babar Ahmad, who is now in his eighth year of detention-without-trial.”

He continues:

“Babar is the longest detained-without-trial British citizen in the modern history of the UK. He is in his 8th year of detention in a maximum security institution. He has served the equivalent of a 14 year sentence and if he had been tried and convicted in the UK, he would be probably out by now.

The CPS has recently admitted that it never considered the evidence against Babar before it was sent to the US authorities”— a point made by my friend, the hon. Lady—

“yet for over seven years, they have allowed him to languish in prison without trial, refusing to prosecute him on the alleged basis that there is ‘insufficient evidence’ to prosecute him. The crimes for which he stands accused are said to have taken place in the UK. Over 141,000 people and 100 senior lawyers have” written in his support.

“If extradited to the US Babar faces a period of 3 years pre-trial detention in complete isolation. If convicted he would face life without parole in solitary confinement at a Supermax prison”.

Is that really what we want for British citizens under this law? That is what will happen if Babar Ahmad’s extradition goes ahead. His father continues:

“On 22 June 2011, Parliament’s JCHR explicitly raised concerns over Babar’s case recommending that the government urgently re-negotiate the UK-US” agreement. Finally, just to make the point, he says that this debate is part of the “enormous public interest” in the case, and in particular the examination of it by the Muslim community in this country, which feels that Babar Ahmad’s case is indicative of something about the treatment of people where there is any suspicion of the kind of offences in which he is alleged to have been involved. He cannot be tried in this country because of the way he has been treated—the trial would collapse—so why on earth should we even consider allowing him to go to the United States?

Baroness Helena Kennedy, who is extremely eminent on all legal matters and somebody for whom I have enormous respect, wrote an excellent article in The Guardian today in which she raised the question of the forum. She wrote:

“To my mind, where there is clear evidence to a criminal standard of a crime being committed either in the UK or from the UK and jurisdiction is being contested, an English court should be required to determine the strength of the evidence and the ‘forum conveniens’—that is, the location of any prosecution. The court’s decision on forum should be based on clear guidance—the nationality of the defendant and the victim; location of both the prosecution and defence evidence, witnesses, and so forth. Yet as it stands there is no statutory right for a UK defendant to challenge extradition on forum grounds.”

I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to that in winding up the debate.

The general point that I want to make is this. We are not here to defend criminals. We are here to ensure that those who have been charged are given a proper hearing and a fair trial. Extradition arrangements must be fair and reciprocal, and in most past cases they have been, in the sense that the Minister for the Interior, or the Home Secretary, has been able to exercise some degree of discretion as to whether or not a person should be extradited. I think that that is right, although one might disagree with the discretion used on certain occasions. What we have here, however, is a completely imbalanced system—as a result of both the European arrest warrant and our arrangements with the United States—which

I consider to be contrary to all the judicial traditions of this country, and on which I think it right for the House to take a stand.

I hope that the motion will be passed, and that that will send a clear message to the Government about what we want. I understand that there may not even be a vote. That either indicates unanimity or indicates that the dark forces of the Whips’ Offices in all parties have taken the night off, but I fear that they are forces that never sleep.

On 11 November the Home Secretary received a long letter from Shami Chakrabarti, general secretary of Liberty, which made points about forum, and many more general points. She wrote:

“The human rights bar in the 2003 Act is of the utmost importance and we continue to encourage its effective application by the British judiciary.”

I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that that letter has received a reply, and will be able to inform us of the Government’s general attitude. We are here to stand up for justice and liberty, and I believe that our arrangement with the United States is the opposite of those things.