Extradition: UK and USA

– in the House of Lords at 2:55 pm on 15 June 2005.

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Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative 2:55, 15 June 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the present extradition arrangements between the United Kingdom and the United States.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice System and Law Reform), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I refer to my previous Answer to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, on 12 January 2005 on the same matter. We continue to review the treaty's progress in the United States ratification process and are urging the United States authorities to enable ratification without further delay.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, do the Government recognise that, sadly, international confidence in the American judicial system has declined since 9/11? Does the Minister accept that it is repugnant to British public opinion that people can be extradited to the United States without any prima facie evidence for any crime unrelated to terrorism? She referred to the failure of the Senate to ratify the reciprocal nature intended in the treaty. Does that not add insult to injury? What are the Government going to do about it? They cannot just go on reviewing it.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice System and Law Reform), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I do not accept what the noble Lord says about confidence in the United States' judicial system. Of course, a lot of confidence has been restored as a result of the actions taken by the United States Supreme Court.

We have real safeguards in the legislation for 2003. Information can properly be provided, and, indeed, the United States expects and gives us information in accordance with its standard, which is "probable cause". Those appear to work very well.

Photo of Lord Slynn of Hadley Lord Slynn of Hadley Crossbench

My Lords, even accepting that it may sometimes be justified in extradition matters to adopt simplified procedure and even to set less stringent tests, does the Minister not accept that, as a matter of good government and even good international practice, the procedure should be carried out only when it is done fully on a bilateral or reciprocal basis? If it is correct that at the moment the traffic is only in one direction, should the United Kingdom not suspend the practice—I insist "the practice"—until the United States accepts in practice that what is good for the goose is good for the gander—I hope that that is not a politically incorrect way of putting it—and accepts that the practice should be carried out on a reciprocal bilateral basis?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice System and Law Reform), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I understand the import of the noble and learned Lord's question. In fact, the practical consequences of what we are doing now are very reciprocal. We make applications to the US. It adheres to those and makes applications to us. I express our genuine disappointment that the United States' authorities have not found the time or energy to ratify the provision. We are pushing the issue very hard.

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Shadow Lord Chancellor, Law Officers (Constitutional Affairs), Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the State Department has disclosed under the American Freedom of Information Act, a message sent on, I think, 26 March 2003 from the American embassy in London to the State Department? That message, discussing the effect of the treaty on extradition to the USA, said:

"Key changes will include streamlined extradition procedures and the lowering of evidentiary requirements for extradition from the current 'prima facie' standard to a standard based on probable cause".

We know that what happened was that the evidential standards were not lowered; they were abolished altogether. Why was there that change in plan, and when did it happen?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice System and Law Reform), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I do not know about that particular memo. The standards have not been abolished. The noble Lord participated fully in the whole of the passage of the Bill, which is now the 2003 Act. We went through all the safeguards. I regret to say that it is simply not correct that there is no evidential standard; there is. Robust information needs to be provided, and that is provided properly.

Photo of Lord Hurd of Westwell Lord Hurd of Westwell Conservative

My Lords, the Minister is always elegant in defending the indefensible. Does she not agree that this is now clearly an unequal treaty—unequal in substance because it deprives British citizens but not American citizens of some of their existing rights; and unequal in process because, whereas the Government tumbled over themselves to bring the treaty into effect, the United States Senate, as the Minister has acknowledged, is still sitting on its hands? Would it not be better to reverse the Order in Council and negotiate a treaty with the United States that is equal in substance as between the rights of our citizens and equal in process, in that it would come into effect when both sides were satisfied with it?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice System and Law Reform), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, perhaps I may deal with the view that it is unequal in process and substance. The noble Lord will know that before the 2003 Act there was a degree of unequalness in treatment because we demanded of the United States that it produce evidence on a prima facie basis and it demanded of us "probable cause". What has now happened is that it demands "probable cause", and the information that we demand of the US is equivalent to that "probable cause".

So now, contrary to what has happened before, there is parity. We are able speedily to extradite the properly identified people. Also we are asked and able to make proper application to the US, to which it responds always. I agree that there is disappointment about the formality of ratification not having taken place, but I reassure the House that it does not materially affect substance.

Photo of Viscount Bridgeman Viscount Bridgeman Spokespersons In the Lords, (Assisted By Shadow Law Officers), Spokespersons In the Lords, Northern Ireland, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that she is confident that the extradition treaty defines dual criminality to the point where there is no danger that a UK citizen could be extradited when he or she has not acted illegally under UK law?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice System and Law Reform), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, the treaties that we have already, the operation of the 2003 Act and the assurances that we have received from the United States allow me to say with confidence that there is no concern in that regard. It gives us all comfort that the United States authorities have always abided by the promises and undertakings that they have given this Government—and, indeed, previous British governments—and that we have been able to rely on those promises.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

My Lords, are the Government content that a British citizen—for instance, a businessman trading on both sides of the Atlantic—can be hauled over to the United States, to spend possibly a year in gaol, on the ground that he may have committed an offence in this country and no action has been taken against him in this country? Are the Government content with that?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice System and Law Reform), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, your Lordships will know that consideration of extradition is based on where it is most appropriate for trials to take place. So, for instance, if a matter occurs in another country and all the evidence is there and all the witnesses are there, it is perfectly proper to make an application for extradition. If an offence is committed in this country, we, too, have an opportunity to decide whether a proper prosecution should take place here. That remains the position. It was the position before, and it is still the position now.