Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons at 12:35 pm on 16th October 2012.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the case of Gary McKinnon and the Government’s response to Sir Scott Baker’s review of our extradition arrangements. I will turn first to Mr McKinnon’s case. I should explain to the House that the statutory process under the Extradition Act 2003 has long ended. Since I came into office, the sole issue on which I have been required to make a decision is whether Mr McKinnon’s extradition to the United States would breach his human rights.
Mr McKinnon is accused of serious crimes, but there is also no doubt that he is seriously ill. He has Asperger’s syndrome and suffers from depressive illness. The legal question before me is now whether the extent of that illness is sufficient to preclude extradition. As the House would expect, I have very carefully considered the representations made on Mr McKinnon’s behalf, including from a number of clinicians. I have obtained my own medical advice from practitioners recommended to me by the chief medical officer, and I have taken extensive legal advice.
After careful consideration of all of the relevant material, I have concluded that Mr McKinnon’s extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr McKinnon’s human rights. I have therefore withdrawn the extradition order against Mr McKinnon. It will now be for the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether Mr McKinnon has a case to answer in a UK court. This has been a difficult and exceptional case, and I would like to pay tribute to all the Home Office officials and lawyers who have worked on the case over the years.
Extradition is a vital tool. In a world in which criminals and crimes can easily cross borders, it is vital to the interests of justice and public protection that criminals cannot avoid justice simply by sheltering behind a border, but concerns about the working of our extradition law have grown over recent years. There has been public concern about the extradition regime operating in the European Union, about the European arrest warrant, and about the extradition arrangements outside the EU, principally with the United States.
That is why, in September 2010, I commissioned a review into our extradition arrangements. That review was undertaken by Sir Scott Baker—a former judge in the Court of Appeal—and a distinguished and expert panel including David Perry QC and Anand Doobay. I am extremely grateful to them for the professional and thorough way in which they went about their work. Nobody who has read their near-500 page report can be anything but impressed by the depth and clarity of its analysis.
At the same time, there has been considerable parliamentary interest in extradition. In a debate last December, Parliament agreed unanimously that it believed there were problems with our US and EU extradition arrangements. In coming to a decision on how the Government should respond to the Baker review, I have taken full account of the review’s recommendations as well as of the views of Parliament. Yesterday, I announced that the Government’s current thinking is that we will opt out of all pre-Lisbon treaty police and criminal justice measures. The Government will give careful consideration to those measures, including the European arrest warrant, and will then seek to opt back into those individual measures where it is in our national interest to do so.
The European arrest warrant has had some success in streamlining the extradition process within the EU, but there have also been problems. There are concerns in particular about the disproportionate use of the EAW for trivial offences, and for actions that are not considered to be crimes in the UK. There are also issues around the lengthy pre-trial detention of some British citizens overseas. We know these concerns are shared by other member states. We will therefore work with the European Commission and with other member states to consider what changes can be made to improve the EAW’s operation. I believe this is necessary to ensure that the EAW provides the protections that our citizens demand.
There are also concerns about our extradition arrangements with countries outside Europe. A key reason for the loss of public and parliamentary confidence in our extradition arrangements has been the perceived lack of transparency in the process. I believe extradition decisions must not only be fair, but must be seen to be fair, and they must be made in open court where decisions can be challenged and explained. That is why I have decided to introduce a forum bar. This will mean that where prosecution is possible in both the UK and in another state, the British courts will be able to bar prosecution overseas, if they believe it is in the interests of justice to do so.
I have been conscious, however, of Sir Scott Baker’s concern that the introduction of the existing forum legislation would lead to delays and satellite litigation. So rather than commence the existing provisions, I will bring forward, as soon as parliamentary time allows, a new forum bar that will be carefully designed to minimise delays. In parallel, the Director of Public Prosecutions will independently publish draft prosecutors’ guidance for cases of concurrent jurisdiction, and a bilateral protocol governing the approach of investigators and prosecutors in the UK and the US is being updated alongside this guidance.
As for the United States-United Kingdom extradition treaty, I agree with the Baker review that our arrangements are broadly sound and that the treaty brings benefits to both our countries. Less than two weeks ago, for example, we saw the extradition to America of Abu Hamza and four other terror suspects. Although there is a perception that the evidence tests used by the US and the UK —probable cause and reasonable suspicion respectively—are unbalanced, Sir Scott Baker found that there is no significant difference between these two tests.
I have also accepted the Baker review’s recommendations that a prima facie evidence test should not be reintroduced for those countries where it is not currently required. The courts are already able to subject requests from all countries to sufficient scrutiny to identify and address injustice or oppression. Reintroducing prima facie evidence would be likely to lead to further delays, and it is absurd to propose that we should require prima facie evidence from countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia, when we do not require such evidence of other countries with far less mature judicial systems.
I also agree with the Baker review’s recommendation that the breadth of the Home Secretary’s involvement in extradition cases should be reduced. Matters such as representations on human rights grounds should, in future, be considered by the High Court rather than the Home Secretary. This change, which will significantly reduce delays in certain cases, will require primary legislation.
Finally, I propose to reduce delays in the extradition system, in the light of the recent extradition of terrorist suspects to the United States. In addition to the measures I have just announced, the Government will look further at proposals in the Baker review to introduce a permission stage for appeals to the UK courts. We will work closely with the European Court of Human Rights on a programme to reduce the wholly unacceptable delays that have occurred there, and we have also been considering how we can reduce delays in the deportation of foreign nationals who pose a threat to our national security. There is scope for reforming rights of appeal, streamlining the stages, expediting cases through the court and looking again at the provision of legal aid for terrorist suspects.
As Sir John Thomas, the judge in the Abu Hamza case said, it is in the overwhelming public interest that our extradition arrangements function properly. They must also be fair. We must balance both strong safeguards for those accused of cross-border crimes with assurance that justice will be done. That is the Government’s aim; that is what our proposals will produce, and I commend this statement to the House.
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.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her approach in response to my statement. She raised three key issues. The first was about the forum bar and our ability to work together to consider these issues across the House and I welcome her suggestion of cross-party work. We all want to ensure that the measure can be introduced in a way that does not introduce delays to extradition proceedings and does not permit significant satellite litigation. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will have noted her offer.
The right hon. Lady then raised the question of cyber and internet crime, which is a key issue. We are conscious of the growth of cybercrime. That is why there will be a cybercrime unit in the National Crime Agency and why, when the Government took office, we set aside a significant sum of money over the four years of the comprehensive spending review to deal with both cyber-security and cybercrime. It is important to work internationally and I have already been party to a number of discussions with other member states in the European Union and with the United States; those discussions are ongoing. We all have a mutual interest in ensuring that we address cybercrime.
Finally, she asked a number of questions about my decision on Mr McKinnon. I have given the most careful consideration to all the material, medical and otherwise, in this difficult and exceptional case and I have concluded that the ordering of his extradition and his subsequent removal would give rise to such risk to his health and, in particular, to a high risk of his ending his life that a decision to that effect would be incompatible with his human rights under article 3. My decision is based on Mr McKinnon’s human rights under article 3.
I warmly congratulate the Home Secretary on saving the life of my constituent, Gary McKinnon, today. I also praise the tireless campaigning of Gary’s mother, Janis Sharp, and the huge public support. Today is a victory for compassion and the keeping of pre-election promises. May we make another promise that after the reforms announced today, a vulnerable UK citizen will never again have to endure 10 years of mental torture, as Gary McKinnon did, and that the British principles of justice and fair play will return to extradition?
May I commend my hon. Friend, who has been assiduous in his work on behalf of his constituent, which is recognised and respected across the House? On his second point, I have become increasingly concerned, and not just because of the recent cases of Abu Hamza and others. Obviously, Mr McKinnon’s case has been under consideration for some time. It is important that the Government consider the whole extradition process so that while we make sure that people can obtain their proper legal rights we also ensure that there is no excessive delay in the system, so that decisions are brought to a conclusion at an earlier stage.
Does the Home Secretary agree that although a lot of people on both sides of the House might want to take some credit for the decision—and they would be right to do so, based on the part they have played—there is no doubt that without the extra-parliamentary activity of my constituent Janis Sharp, Gary McKinnon’s mother, this decision could not have been made in the way that it has been made today? I want to thank my constituent for all that
Bolsover fighting spirit. She has won the case after a long, drawn out 10 years and when she gets on that television, she never misses a chance.
The hon. Gentleman is also assiduous in standing up for his constituent and I recognise the campaign that has been fought over the years by many people. As I said earlier, however, my decision was based on the material that was available to me.
I understand the difficult nature of the decision that my right hon. Friend has had to take. Extracts of some of the medical reports have been circulating in the House of Commons today and it seems to me that under the terms of the medical advice she received there was no other conclusion to reach that was consistent with Mr McKinnon’s human rights but that she should bring an end to the extradition process. As we have already heard, that is subject to universal acceptance.
I also agree with what my right hon. Friend said about a forum bar and the need, even with such a procedure embodied in our law, to ensure that it does not become the source of undue delay. Regrettably, however, I must disagree with her on the question of standard of proof. Once again, I respectfully disagree with the conclusions reached in the Baker report. In that, I am supported by a large body of credible legal opinion, not to mention many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. Does she understand that sooner or later it will not be the perception that will be challenged but the substance of the distinction? Would not the protocol to which she referred as being necessary between the United Kingdom and the United States be an exact and appropriate vehicle in which to state that no one will be extradited from Great Britain to the United States unless there is probable cause for doing so?
I am grateful for my right hon. and learned Friend’s remarks on a number of my announcements today. I fully recognise the concern expressed in this House and elsewhere about the perception that there is a difference. Sir Scott Baker considered the issue very carefully and came to the conclusion that there was no significant difference between the requirements on either side of the Atlantic and that in effect there was no practical difference between the two. I recognise, however, the opinion expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend today.
Given the politically and emotionally charged atmosphere around this case, I think that we all understand why the Home Secretary has taken the decision she has. There have been efforts—of which she and my right hon. Friend Alan Johnson, her predecessor, are aware—to try to find a way around the situation so that it does not create a precedent for the future, particularly in relation to the cybercrime issues raised by the shadow Home Secretary. That has involved trying to organise video-conferencing and for sentences to be served in the United Kingdom. Without that, surely we will create a rod for our backs in that individual cases will be judged on the support they get from the public rather than on the logic and legal requirements that must be applied in any extradition case.
I have taken this decision after, as I have said, the most careful consideration of all the material—medical and other—that has been available to me. Having considered that material, I took the decision announced to the House this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned video-conferencing. The American Government have made it clear that undertaking such video-conferences would not be possible under their constitution. Cybercrime is an issue, obviously, but he hints at the question of whether someone should physically be tried in the UK or prosecuted and tried in another country, be it the United States or elsewhere. Of course, the introduction of the forum bar will offer a transparent process whereby people will see how decisions are taken on whether it is right for someone who is subject to an extradition request to be tried here in the UK or in the US.
I warmly welcome the Home Secretary’s wish to improve our extradition arrangements. Does she accept that many of us in this House feel that the US-UK arrangements were unfair to the UK and that the European arrest warrant is unfair to the UK? We look to her to reform to give Britain and her people a better deal.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comment. As I said in my statement, I think that the UK-US treaty is, as Sir Scott Baker found, broadly sound. It is important that we have a robust treaty on extradition with the United States and that we ensure that extradition can take place both ways across the Atlantic. As I have said, there are a number of ways in which we need to change how we operate so that people can see that the extradition arrangements are fair and can take comfort and have confidence in them. The British people need to have confidence in our extradition arrangements.
As the Home Secretary said, Gary McKinnon is accused of very serious offences. The US was perfectly within its rights and it was reasonable for it to seek his extradition. We now do not know whether Gary McKinnon will ever have to face justice on those accusations. Can the right hon. Lady confirm that US authorities were willing to allow him to serve any sentence in the UK? On the issue of High Court judges making these decisions, Lord Justice Burnton said in the High Court in July 2009 that Gary McKinnon’s case did not even “approach Article 3 severity”. He quoted all the precedents for this. What does the Home Secretary think she knows that Lord Justice Burnton did not? She has made a decision today that is in her party’s best interest; it is not in the best interests of the country.
I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman had a decision to take in this case in his time as Home Secretary. I respect the decision that he took on the material that was available to him at the time. I believe that the decision of the judge that he referred to was in 2008.
I stand corrected. It was said that it was 2008, but I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman says 2009. As I said, I have given very careful consideration to the material, medical and otherwise, that has been available to me and I have come to the decision that extradition would not be appropriate in relation to Mr McKinnon’s human rights under article 3. That is the decision that I have taken on the material available to me.
I call Mr David Davis.
Order. We will hear from Top Cat in a moment, not just yet. I should have explained. Mr David Davis—he with the slightly greyer hair and the longer service in the House.
I, for one, congratulate the Home Secretary wholeheartedly on her decision on Gary McKinnon today, but I also share some of the concerns of my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Menzies Campbell. There are a number of cases where there are concerns over justice being done, with respect to both Europe and the USA—in particular, in respect of the USA, there are fears that the intimidatory use of the plea bargaining arrangements force possibly innocent people to make guilty pleas, and similar problems in the justice systems of other European countries. Will the Home Secretary give the House an undertaking that what she proposes to bring about today will give protection to UK citizens equal to that which American citizens get from their constitution?
As I said in response to my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Menzies Campbell, I understand that a number of Members, including my right hon. Friend Mr Davis, still have concerns about the perception of the imbalance between the probable cause and reasonable suspicion tests. As I say, Sir Scott Baker looked at this and found that there was no significant difference between them—that in practice the application of those two tests was not significantly different as between the US requests and the UK requests. I can assure my right hon. Friend that Sir Scott Baker’s decision was relevant to those from the UK whose extradition to the United States was requested, and vice versa.
I warmly welcome the decision that the Home Secretary has made today, which is fully in keeping with the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee over the past three years, and I commend the work of Mr Burrowes and Janis Sharp. I agree with the Home Secretary that a forum bar has to be introduced but I disagree on the evidence test. We need an evidence test and we need to renegotiate the treaty, which is unfair and unbalanced. I disagree with those on both Front Benches on ministerial discretion. As the Home Secretary has ably demonstrated today,
Home Secretaries must make these decisions. We cannot hand all the decisions to the judges to make on our behalf.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have set out my position in relation to the Secretary of State’s discretion, so on that matter we will have to disagree. As I said, I recognise that there may continue to be some concerns in the House in relation to the perception of the information or evidence available on both sides of the Atlantic when an extradition case is being considered one way or the other. I think I am right in saying that the United States has never refused an extradition request from the United Kingdom, and that should be recognised. Very often people look at the treaty and assume that all it ever does is extradite UK citizens to the United States. Of course, the opposite is true. A good number of people have been extradited from the United States to the UK to stand trial.
As a member of the Home Affairs Committee which considered the matter, I offer my warmest congratulations on behalf of all those who feel that the Home Secretary has stood up for the rights of British nationals and, in her subsequent comments, for the wider British national interest.
I think I am grateful, Mr Speaker, that you allowed both Members with the surname Davis or Davies on our Benches to speak.
Despite the comments of my right hon. and respected Friend Alan Johnson, a former Home Secretary, is the Home Secretary aware that the decision that she has made on this individual case will be widely and warmly welcomed, not only in the House but outside? It is a very good decision and she should be proud of it. However, on the extradition treaty with the United States, may I remind her how critical she and the Liberal Democrats were in opposition? Like a number of Members, I remain of the view that the treaty needs to be looked at again.
I had a hopeful moment there when the hon. Gentleman was speaking! I thank him for his earlier remarks. I am well aware that this was a matter on which there was considerable discussion when it went through the House. I am also aware that the forum bar arrangements that are in the Police and Justice Act 2006 were moved by the then shadow Home Affairs team, led by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, who is now the Attorney-General, so we are well aware of the issues that were raised at the time. I believe that the introduction of the forum bar will ensure that people see that justice is being done in relation to the decision whether extradition should take place and where prosecution should take place. Other changes that we will introduce on the extradition proceedings will ensure that people can see that this is a process in which they can take comfort and have confidence.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on making an excellent decision, and my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes, who has been tireless in his support of Gary McKinnon and his family. The decision today will move forward the understanding of people with autism. Will my right hon. Friend make sure that the benefits are spread more widely by undertaking a review of the treatment of people with autism within the criminal justice system as they often suffer disproportionately because of their condition?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments and commend her for the work that she did in introducing her private Member’s Bill that became the Autism Act 2009, which has had a significant impact. When she talks about the criminal justice system, part of that is for the Home Office, but some of the issues that she is thinking about may be more appropriate for the Justice Secretary in relation to the treatment of those individuals with autism in prison and in other custodial circumstances. I have certainly noted her comment and will bring it to the attention of the Justice Secretary.
The Home Secretary says that the matter is now for the Director of Public Prosecutions. Has she referred the case to him? Given her extensive knowledge of the medical evidence, does she think it likely that Mr McKinnon will be fit to stand trial in this country?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: it is now for the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether the case should be prosecuted. Very simply, it is not the case that politicians tell the Director of Public Prosecutions what to do, who to investigate or who to prosecute, so he will come to his decision based on the information available to him.
Further to my question to my right hon. Friend yesterday and in the interests of those of us who have or have had constituents who have been held for long periods in European and foreign prisons—people who are United Kingdom citizens—will she seriously consider ensuring that no United Kingdom citizen may be extradited to another country where the period of detention before trial is very considerably longer than that in the United Kingdom?
We will seek to consider with the Commission and other member states the issues that have arisen in relation to the operation of the European arrest warrant. This view is not held solely by the United Kingdom. Across a number of member states, there are concerns about the way in which the EAW has been operating, and we shall be working on that matter as part of our consideration of closed measures that we may choose to opt back into, or wish to opt back into, in relation to the 2014 justice and home affairs powers. However, I have certainly heard the point that my hon. Friend makes.
I too warmly welcome the decisions on Gary McKinnon and the forum bar, and only wish that they had been made sooner. Why, if the Home Secretary accepts that the law needs to change, did she sanction the extraditions of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan? Surely they should also be benefiting from a fair extradition process. They were extradited on
I consider that the process that Abu Hamza and the other four individuals went through was fair. Where it was relevant, consideration would have been given to the issue of prosecution in the UK and the decision taken that that was not appropriate.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and echo the comments of Mr Davis about plea bargaining in the US and the effect that that has on British citizens extradited there. In her discussions with the Secretary of State for Justice in respect of changes to the appellate process, will she please take into account that domestic proceedings can be exhausted in the county court, which is a very low level for appeals from the magistrates court?
I note my hon. Friend’s point. As I said and as he recognises, the matter is being considered between the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and other relevant Ministers, and we will seek to ensure that we can produce a process that does not involve excessive delays, but which gives appropriate fairness and proper regard to individuals’ legal rights.
The Home Secretary says that she agrees with the Baker review recommendations that the breadth of the Home Secretary’s involvement in extradition cases should be reduced, and that will need primary legislation. Can she give us an idea of when that primary legislation will come before the House?
We will be exploring a number of options for that primary legislation to come before the House. Obviously, as the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, I cannot say at this moment when that will be. It will be when parliamentary time allows.
On behalf of the all-party parliamentary group on autism, I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s decision today. Will she make sure that her Department redoubles its efforts to ensure that all people with autism, Asperger’s syndrome and related conditions are treated properly and their needs addressed when they are detained and arrested prior to any charge?
I note my hon. Friend’s point, which echoes that made by my right hon. Friend Mrs Gillan. I will take it away and consider it.
On behalf of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I warmly welcome the Home Secretary’s decision on Gary McKinnon. Will she look again at the JCHR’s report on extradition, particularly with regard to the evidence given to us on the European arrest warrant?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and thank him and Keith Vaz for the work that their two Committees did on extradition arrangements. The Government will respond, I hope later today, to his Committee’s report, and obviously will refer to the issue that he has raised.
I warmly congratulate the Home Secretary on her decision not to extradite Gary McKinnon and to introduce a forum bar, and join all those paying tribute to Gary and to Janis Sharp for their extremely long 10-year struggle.
The Home Secretary made her correct decision, based, as she explained, on the European Convention on Human Rights. Will she ensure that all her other decisions are also founded on that excellent bedrock? [Interruption.]
The Attorney-General has just said that they have to be. Any legislation that I bring before the House I have to sign to say that it is indeed compatible.
I commend the Home Secretary for her welcome decision on Gary McKinnon and all those who campaigned for so long for this justice.
In answer to Caroline Lucas, the Home Secretary referred to the case of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan. They have been deported to the USA, they faced no prosecution in this country and they were in prison for a long time in this country. Under the new procedures that she envisages, could such a deportation take place in the future? Does she not accept that their case is materially different from those who were deported at that time and that we should have some respect for the fact that they were never prosecuted in this country yet they are now being prosecuted in the USA?
The cases that the hon. Gentleman raises were considered through a series of proceedings in the courts in the United Kingdom and by the European Court of Human Rights. All those courts determined that it was perfectly appropriate for those individuals to be extradited to the United States.
The correct decision to which my right hon. Friend has come has been warmly welcomed across the House, and I join in welcoming it. She referred to the fact that she is having discussion internationally, both with the United States and with EU member states, in relation to our extradition arrangements. Are any changes to the European arrest warrant being suggested by other EU member states, and what does she propose to do to carry those forward?
If I may just clarify, I think that my hon. and learned Friend has picked up on the discussions that I referred to in response to the shadow Home Secretary, which were international discussions about cybercrime. We will indeed be having discussions with other member states on the European arrest warrant. It is already the case that other member states have raised issues, for example, on proportionality. This is a matter of concern for other member states, not just the United Kingdom.
We must welcome the fact that decisions in these cases are based on fairness and justice, and I welcome the decision today if that is the case. But is the Home Secretary aware of the number of cases involving fugitives who have fled to Pakistan? It seems almost impossible to get an arrangement with the Pakistan Government to bring back people such as Shahid Mohammed, who was alleged to be part of a gang that killed a family of eight children in a firebomb incident. The rest of the accused have been committed to prison, but he is still at large in Pakistan and there is no arrangement whereby he can be extradited. Will she look into this case so that we can have fairness and justice for the Chishti family in my constituency?
I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s concern about that particular case. He is right to say that no arrangements are in place to enable us to deal with that matter. I assure him that I and the Attorney-General have heard his comments and I will look into the circumstances of the case that he raises.
Confidence in our extradition arrangements had fallen so low that few members of the public would have been surprised if Gary McKinnon had been extradited yet Abu Hamza had been allowed to stay. Does the Home Secretary believe that her statement today, combined with her statement yesterday on the European arrest warrant, provides a sufficient basis on which she can restore confidence in our extradition processes?
Yes, I sincerely hope that that is exactly what will happen as a result of the changes that the Government will bring about. People have been concerned. There has been general public disquiet about some of our extradition arrangements. The proposals that I have put before the House today and that will come before the House in primary legislation will give people confidence in our extradition system.
Will the Home Secretary answer the question that she has avoided twice in relation to forum and the cases of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan? In both those cases, forum was the key issue; it was not in the other cases that she conflates them with. How does she explain her timing in introducing the forum bar only days after they were removed from the country?
The decision that those individuals be extradited went through all the proper and appropriate processes, including the European Court, and in all those stages extradition was considered appropriate. We have a process already whereby decisions are taken as to whether individuals should be prosecuted in the UK or in any other country asking for extradition, and those decisions are properly taken by the courts. We will in future be changing the way that that takes place so that it is more open and transparent.
I welcome the fact that we have a Home Secretary with the backbone to stand up for British citizens and British principles of justice. I also welcome the shadow Home Secretary’s acknowledgment—her first, I think—that the European arrest warrant needs reform, because in quantity and quality those cases have proved far more serious than our arrangements with the United States, including in relation to my constituent Colin Dines. Does the Home Secretary agree that the best bet for common-sense reform of the EAW would be to exercise the block opt-out and then use our leverage to press for modest safeguards so that we do not continue to hang innocent citizens out to dry?
I thank my hon. Friend for his observations and comments. As he knows, the Government’s current thinking is that we will exercise the block opt-out and then seek to opt in to a number of measures. We will obviously consider the matter carefully and, as I said earlier, discuss the whole question of the European arrest warrant with the European Commission and other member states. As I have indicated, I am aware that other member states are also concerned about certain aspects of the European arrest warrant’s operation.
I fear that the Home Secretary is gambling with the justice for British victims of foreign criminals who flee to their home countries in Europe. She has chosen to opt out of the EAW, with no guarantee that we can opt in again, which could mean that British citizens will be denied justice. Will she outline in more detail what conversations she is having with other EU member states and what plan B is? Is it bilateral treaties with every single member state?
I am surprised that the hon. Lady does not understand the process a little better than her question suggests. I announced yesterday that the Government’s current thinking is that we will exercise the block opt-out. It is not open to us to opt out of individual measures; we can only block opt in or block opt out and then seek to rejoin certain measures. That is the process that the Government are currently going through. We will be talking with the European Commission and other member states about arrangements for the opt-ins and the specific measures that the Government choose to opt in to. The circumstances she sets out in her question are quite far from the reality.
I warmly congratulate the Home Secretary on her decision on Gary McKinnon and my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes on his efforts; there are now two Enfield constituents who have benefited directly from the Home Secretary’s interest in and positive response to extradition matters. On the problem of British nationals languishing in jails for unacceptable periods of time pre-trial in Europe, does she recognise that that is in large part because the EAW is based on the rather flawed principle of mutual recognition of each others’ judicial systems, and will she ensure that she challenges and examines that in any future negotiations?
I recognise my hon. Friend’s concern about that issue, which he has expressed on a number of occasions. I can assure him we will be looking in detail at the operation of the European arrest warrant, not only as part of our internal consideration but as part of our discussions with the European Commission and other member states.
I, too, welcome the Home Secretary’s decision regarding Gary McKinnon. When she reviews these particular provisions, I want to ask her to consider three things in relation to extradition: whether extradition to another country can be for actions that are not criminal offences in this country; whether a proper case has to be made in a British court before someone can be extradited; and, if a significant part of the alleged conduct has occurred in the United Kingdom, whether the trial must be heard in the United Kingdom.
The point of introducing the forum bar is that there will be a transparent process for considering, challenging and examining whether a prosecution should take place in the UK or in another country. The decision taken by the courts will be transparent and open, and that is what I believe will give people more confidence in our extradition arrangements.
My right hon. Friend must of course look at such cases individually, but does she agree that the Anglo-American extradition treaty is sound, fair and balanced between our two countries, which are on a generally equal footing, as Sir Scott Baker found in his extensive report; that there is no imbalance in the evidence tests that currently apply; and that there is no need for a prima facie test, which after all we do not apply to other countries that have far less mature justice systems? Will she also take the opportunity to indicate that she has full confidence in the American justice system, which is infinitely preferable to those of many other countries with which we have extradition arrangements?
Order. I am listening with great interest to the hon. Gentleman, but I must say to him that if he had been paid by the word when practising in the UK courts he would now be an immensely wealthy man.
I do indeed agree with my hon. Friend that the UK-US extradition treaty is broadly sound. It is important that we have good, well-working extradition arrangements between the UK and the US, and we have seen the benefit of that in relation to a number of cases in which people have been extradited to the US or back to the UK. He is right: Sir Scott Baker did say that there was no need for a prima facie test, which is why I do not propose to introduce such a test in the new arrangements we are proposing. I repeat that it is important that we have well-working extradition arrangements with the US that people can have confidence in. I believe that the limited changes I have announced today will give people that confidence.
Is the Home Secretary aware that it is not a crime in France to have sex with a 15-year-old child but it is here; and that it is not a crime here to wear a Nazi uniform, throw up Heil Hitler salutes and swagger around talking about the Third Reich but it is in Germany? I worry that Interior Ministers in our partner countries will hear her statement and think, “Well, if something is not a crime here, why send someone back? If someone brings in a chit stating that they are depressed and not very well, why send them back?” I am not disputing the sincerity and integrity of her decision, but I hope she thinks a bit longer and harder before in effect telling many other countries that they do not need to extradite people back to us.
There is no hint in anything I have said that that will be the case. The right hon. Gentleman raised a concern yesterday about the European arrest warrant, and I will repeat what I said yesterday: we will be looking, with the Commission and other member states, at the operation of the European arrest warrant because, although there have been benefits, there have been problems. That is exactly what I said in my statement, and I think that it is right that we look at it properly and carefully.
I, too, welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and think that her lustre will have been burnished further in the Bone household, if I may say so in the absence of our hon. Friend Mr Bone. Has she made any estimate of the number of people who are currently extradited but who in future are likely to be tried in this country rather than abroad after the introduction of a forum bar, and who will decide the criteria on which the judges will make those decisions?
Every individual case must be considered on its merits, so it is not possible to look ahead to future cases and predict how many people would be prosecuted here in the UK rather than abroad. We will obviously look at the arrangements for the forum bar and how it will operate when we introduce it in primary legislation. As it is necessary to introduce it in primary legislation, the House will be able to scrutinise the arrangements that are put in place.
I, too, welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and congratulate her on a victory for the democratic process and for fair play. Can she confirm that a precedent has not been set with regard to the reasons to stop an extradition? What assurance can she give that the two outstanding extradition requests from the US, and indeed any future extradition requests, will not be affected by this decision?
My decision is based on the issue of Mr McKinnon’s human rights under article 3 and, as I have just indicated in response to my hon. Friend Mr Stuart, each individual case will be determined on its own merits.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to be the last Member here to congratulate my right hon. Friend on her decision and on bringing Gary McKinnon’s 10-year nightmare to an end. I can assure her that my constituents will welcome today’s announcement, both the specifics and the more general reforms she has proposed. I encourage her to bring those forward as soon as possible so that cases do not drag on like this in future.
I recognise the eagerness with which my hon. Friend, and indeed others, wish the Government to bring forward these changes. I can assure him that we, too, are eager to bring them forward as soon as possible, but that will of course be as parliamentary time allows.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary and to colleagues.