Clause 2 - Part 1 warrant and certificate

Part of Extradition Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 9th January 2003.

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 10:15 am, 9th January 2003

Let us discuss how we deal with extradition warrants currently and how we expect them to be dealt with under the European arrest warrant framework. If hon. Members are still not satisfied at the end of the debate they can make their views known. We expect that European arrest warrants will be issued in future by exactly the same authorities as issue warrants under the current arrest procedures. We intend to do that in the United Kingdom. There is no reason to suppose that our intentions are different from those of any other European country. The Bill is drafted in such a way as to include all those authorities that currently issue arrest warrants, as issuing authorities. I have yet to hear an argument that says that we should change that.

The Committee is well aware that we have enjoyed extradition arrangements with all EU member states

for many years. Extradition requests come from a variety of sources. Any Member who read the proceedings of European Standing Committee B would be aware of the wide variety of sources for current extradition requests—the examining magistrate in Liege, the magistrate at the public prosecutor's office in Amsterdam, the Court of Brescia, the county tribunal of Bobigny or even the magistrate judge Maria Teresa Palacios Criado in Madrid. That gives an idea of the span of arrangements used by our European partners and the sort of people who make arrest warrants today. We do not believe that that will or can change: the framework document insists on no widening outwith the judicial authorities in the part 1 countries.

We receive extradition requests from a variety of sources throughout the UK and we should recognise that other EU countries do not have exactly the same structure of criminal justice system as our own. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland rightly pointed out, our system is structured in two different ways. The current system works well and has not given rise to any problems in the recent past stemming from an inappropriate request from a European partner for extradition. I see no reason to change the system.

By the time that countries start to operate the European arrest warrant, we will know which authorities will be competent to issue them. It will be reasonably straightforward for the issuing authority to be identified and it will be possible to cross-check them with the central record kept by the general secretariat.

Some of the Conservative amendments suggest that we should accept warrants only from a high court or its equivalent, which would be problematic. How would the UK authorities and judges decide which issuing authorities constitute a high court? Why should we stipulate that only a higher level of authority should be permitted to make extradition requests to the UK when we have been working with colleagues in other countries without problems for many years?

The presumption of innocence is another problem. Article 6 of the ECHR deals with the right to a fair trial. It makes it clear that a person shall be

''presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law''.

All EU member states have signed up to and implemented the ECHR, so it is difficult to understand why Opposition Members have such a problem here.

As to convictions in absentia, the Bill makes it clear that extradition will take place only if the fugitive has a guarantee of a retrial or a review amounting to a retrial. A retrial for a person convicted in absentia begins with the presumption of that person's innocence, as guaranteed under ECHR provisions. If Opposition Members are suggesting that we should second-guess the approach of a foreign court, the Committee should view that as unrealistic. If the UK ever extradited only to countries where the courts operated an identical system—the amendments refer to the High Court or an equivalent—I cannot begin to imagine the damage that that would do to our international reputation. I do not believe that the

Committee would like the UK to be seen as a country that refuses to co-operate on serious criminal matters unless other states accede to our—quite unrealistic—demands that their legal systems should mirror our own.

If the Bill is read in conjunction with the framework document, the only people who are allowed to issue a European arrest warrant are those who have that function under the framework document. That document spells out that such people must be judicial authorities. I accept that the fears raised by Opposition Members are real, but I hope that if they are prepared to read the two documents together, they will be satisfied that the sort of abuses that they believe may arise cannot do so.

Mr. Maples rose—

Mr. Hawkins rose—