The Bill is intended to assist in the fight against serious crime, not least terrorism, by making it possible to conclude agreements with other countries that would provide for electronic data in the possession of a service provider, in that other country to the agreement, to be passed to the UK authorities upon that service provider being served with an overseas production order made by a court in this country. Such arrangements would almost certainly have to be reciprocal, so that the authorities in that other country could make an overseas production order or equivalent in respect of the provision of electronic data by a service provider in this country. The necessity for having these provisions in the Bill is that the current procedure for obtaining such data, which is increasingly used in major crimes or in their planning as the technology rapidly develops, is what is known as mutual legal assistance. Under this process, the application for such data must be through the authorities and a court in the country of the service provider from which that data is being sought. If the application is agreed, there is still the process of actually obtaining the data from the service provider.
In reality, obtaining electronic data under the existing mutual legal assistance arrangements can take many months—apparently up to 12—which is not exactly conducive to fighting effectively serious crime and terrorism, with the length of time taken to obtain that data acting either as a disincentive to seeking it at all or it being obtained so late as to seriously negate its relevance and effectiveness. As I understand it, discussions have already taken place between the United Kingdom and the United States of America about concluding reciprocal arrangements for securing electronic data under the Bill’s provisions on overseas production orders. Indeed, I think the United States has already passed its necessary legislation to enable such arrangements or agreements to be concluded with the UK. We are not in any way opposed to the introduction of these new arrangements in principle but we have two significant areas of concern, one of which is the implications for the UK’s stance on opposition to the death penalty. That is the subject of Amendment 1, which is also in the names of my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
An order from this country for an overseas production order applying to a service provider in the USA would, under the Bill, be made in a UK court. The service provider in the USA would, under the terms of the arrangements likely to be concluded, be expected to comply. In fact, as I understand it again, our Government have stated that they will not seek such an order unless they know that the provider would be willing to comply voluntarily.
As understand it again, service providers are likely to be willing to comply because the Bill will provide them with legal protection for releasing such electronic data. Likewise a service provider in this country would, in the normal course of events, be expected to comply with an overseas production order made by a court in another country—such as America, with which it looks as though we are close to concluding an agreement—under the terms of the Bill. I am not sure that there has been an indication from the American authorities that they would seek such an order only if they knew that the relevant service provider over here would comply, so some form of enforcement action could be the result if there was non-compliance.
Our concern in respect of the death penalty, to which this amendment relates, is that in a number of states in the USA it can be handed down as the sentence if a defendant is found guilty of certain serious crimes, including acts of terrorism. In the UK we are opposed to the death penalty—government Ministers have repeatedly stated that—and do not apply it as a sentence. However an overseas production order made by a court in the USA for electronic data from a service provider in this country could result in a situation whereby that electronic data might be significant in or key to enabling a court in America to convict a defendant who could be a citizen of any country, including Britain, of an offence carrying the death penalty as a possible sentence.
There is no issue with an individual being convicted of a serious offence they have committed, not least terrorism, as a result of electronic data obtained from a service provider in the UK and receiving an appropriate sentence, but we have an issue with the provision of such information from this country under the terms of the Bill without an assurance that the death penalty could not be imposed. We cannot as a nation say we are opposed to the death penalty and then sign an agreement with another country, whether the USA or another nation, knowing that a court in that other country could then make an order for a service provider here to provide electronic data which could make the difference between a defendant, perhaps a British citizen, being convicted or not convicted of an offence that led to the death penalty being applied.
This amendment provides that, in any agreement on overseas production orders and the provision of electronic data under the terms of the Bill, assurances must be obtained from the other country concerned that the death penalty will not be applied in respect of any offence for which a defendant has been found guilty and in which the information provided from this country contributed in any way to securing that conviction.
I believe the Government have previously said that there will need to be some form of disputes procedure against an overseas production order made in another country with which we have concluded a reciprocal agreement. However the Government have not been able to say what form that dispute procedure will take, how it will operate or, crucially, on what grounds an overseas production order made in that other country could successfully be challenged. Since the Government have resisted any suggestion of the Bill specifically stating that no reciprocal agreement or arrangement can be made with a country that will not give a cast-iron assurance that any electronic data from this country would not be used to help convict a defendant of an offence for which the death penalty would be applied, it seems extremely unlikely that grounds for a successful objection to an overseas production order under any disputes procedure could be that the data being sought could be used to help secure a conviction that could lead to the death penalty being imposed.
I repeat that the amendment does not preclude a reciprocal agreement being reached with other countries on overseas production orders to secure electronic data in the battle against serious crime, not least terrorism, by improving the prospects of securing convictions and, with them, the prospects of lengthy sentences of imprisonment to reflect the severity of the crime. The amendment seeks to ensure that our policy as a nation of opposing the death penalty is not compromised by service providers here being required by a court in another country with which we have reached an agreement under the terms of the Bill being expected to hand over data when there is no guarantee that that information will not be used to assist in securing a conviction, which could be of a British citizen, for which the death penalty could be applied. We cannot claim that we did not know that that would be the outcome. It will have come about through passing the Bill at the behest of the Government and the Government concluding an international agreement with another country, such as the USA, where the death penalty can still be applied in some states, without securing an assurance as part of that international agreement that the death penalty will not be applied where data secured under the Bill has played a part in securing that conviction. I beg to move.