Foreign Fighters and the Death Penalty

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:43 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 3:43 pm, 23rd July 2018

The Government take their responsibility to protect the public seriously. We have been consistently clear, where there is evidence that crimes have been committed, that foreign fighters, for example, should be brought to justice in accordance with due legal process regardless of their nationality. The specific process followed will always be dependent on the individual circumstances of the case.

The case of Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh is ongoing and obviously sensitive. In handling this case, the Government and Ministers have complied with the European convention on human rights and with due process, and we must be mindful to protect the integrity of the criminal investigation. In this instance, and after carefully considered advice, the Government took the rare decision not to require assurances in this case. It would be inappropriate to comment further on that specific case. Foreign fighters detained in Syria could be released from detention without facing justice. We have been working closely with international partners to ensure that they face justice for any crimes they have committed.

I can provide little further detail to the House beyond what the Government have already outlined in previous statements, but I can reassure the House that our long-standing position on the use of the death penalty has not changed. The UK has a long-standing policy of opposing the death penalty as a matter of principle regardless of nationality and we act compatibly with the European convention on human rights. In accordance with the Government’s overseas, security and justice assistance guidance, we have taken into account human rights considerations. The OSJA provides that where there are strong reasons not to seek death penalty assurances,

“Ministers should be consulted to determine whether, given the specific circumstances of the case, we should nevertheless provide assistance.”

On Guantanamo Bay, again our position has not changed. The UK Government’s long-standing position is that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay should close. Where we share evidence with the US, it must be for the express purpose of progressing a criminal prosecution, and we have made that clear to the United States. We have planned and prepared for the risk posed by British nationals returning to the UK as Daesh is defeated in Iraq and Syria, and we are using a range of tools to disrupt and diminish that threat in order to keep the public safe. Each case is considered individually to determine which action or power is most appropriate.

I cannot say more about individual cases in this circumstance, but the Government have set out the extent to which these tools have been used in our annual transparency report. We will also be introducing new offences in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which is being debated by parliamentary colleagues and which will strengthen our terrorism legislation to increase our ability to prosecute returning foreign fighters.