Clause 13 - Extraneous considerations

Extradition Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 9th January 2003.

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Question proposed, That clause 13 stand part of the Bill.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

I want to raise two or three points about the clause. When I spoke this morning about my general opposition to the framework directive and the procedures that occur under it, the Minister assured us that all our partner countries had subscribed to the European convention on human rights and are democracies in which the rule of law reigns supreme. He said that we have nothing to worry about in those countries' criminal jurisdictions or in the way in which they conduct their criminal procedures. Therefore, I have to ask why it was felt necessary to include clause 13, which envisages that one of our EU partners—a subscriber to the ECHR—might use the arrest warrant under the framework directive as a subterfuge for prosecuting someone because of their

''race, religion, nationality or political opinions''.

That is a fundamental provision, which goes much further than the fears that I expressed this morning. I find it extraordinary that the Government can say that all the countries' jurisdiction procedures are fine, that none of our citizens should have anything to fear as they will get a fair trial before an independent judiciary, and that the countries are all signatories to the ECHR, but also feel it necessary to include clause 13, which clearly envisages the opposite. If clause 13 is necessary, we have a serious problem. It bears out all my fears that we cannot and should not trust the judicial systems of some EU countries. The Minister owes us an explanation, either later or in an intervention, about why it was felt necessary to include the clause. I find it absolutely extraordinary that the Government can hold both positions—that the clause is necessary but that we have nothing to fear from the framework decision because all parties are satisfactory.

Just to prove that I am not a complete softy on extradition issues, my second point is that the clause opens a huge gap through which the defence could drive a coach and horses, especially in terrorist cases, which is where the whole procedure started. Rachid Ramda has succeeded in getting the House of Lords to throw out his extradition and send it back to the Home Secretary on the grounds that he cannot receive a fair trial in France as an Arab Muslim. I must say that France is not high on my list of countries about whose judicial systems I have some doubt. I have a great deal of confidence in the French judicial system, but the House of Lords does not. It believes that it is not just possible, but distinctly possible, and a grounds for refusing extradition, that an Arab Muslim might not receive a fair trial.

The second ground on which Rachid Ramda sought to fight his extradition was that part of the evidence against him was given by a co-accused who had not got to the United Kingdom, but had been arrested, tried and sentenced in France. It was somehow decided that the French had extorted evidence from this other

witness against Mr. Ramda. [Interruption.] I hope that I have the Minister's attention, because this is an important point. I agree with the Minister that the framework directive seeks to close down a series of legal procedures that people can exploit to delay their extradition. Rachid Ramda has succeeded in delaying his extradition for more than seven years. I do not know whether it is better to be in Belmarsh than in a prison in Paris, but one way or another he is going to spend much of his life in prison.

The framework directive seeks to close down those artificial, legalistic defences that people whose extradition is sought can pursue, but the clause will open them up again. In that respect, the clause is extremely dangerous. The people who seek to use the clause may well be terrorist suspects, who by definition may be Arabs or Muslims, especially in the current climate of terrorism. We could allege that we could not receive a fair trial in another European country on the grounds of our race, religion or political opinions, but it may well be that an Arab or Muslim charged with terrorism would have a far better chance of raising those defences. We are closing down a series of legal procedures that people can go through and opening them up again in this clause. I will say the same about the human rights clause, but this clause is more specific. It should not be in the Bill. We should not be entering into the framework directive and passing part 1 if protection from the mis-exercising of jurisdiction on the part of our European partners is such as to necessitate the clause. On the other hand, we do not need the clause if those procedures are so satisfactory that there can be no doubt about them.

Is the exception permitted? I cannot find the part in the framework directive where it would be.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I approve of what my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon has said. He made his points far better than I could have done. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) raised the point on Second Reading that there is a mismatch between the framework directive, which includes the wide and undefined crime of ''xenophobia'', and clause 13, which sets out the political defence.

My right hon. Friend referred to suggestions made by some commentators that the British Government's bombing of Kosovo might have been against international law, and therefore that someone might at some stage accuse Ministers in the British Government of a xenophobic, or even racist, action. Our suggestion is that the Government may have been so concerned about the possibility of a judicial authority or junior magistrate in another country making the same sort of allegations against serving Ministers that were made against Senator Pinochet that they have included the political defence in clause 13.

However, there is a mismatch. As my hon. Friend said, serious offenders might slip through the loophole. Even someone who had committed a serious criminal offence such as a bank robbery could say that it was done to raise funds for a political cause. It opens up a loophole, but does not match what is in the framework directive, so it does

not make sense. The Minister should explain exactly how clause 13 links in with the section on xenophobia and racism in the framework directive and deal with the other valuable points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Clearly we are missing each other. We can sometimes become amused during parliamentary proceedings.

Opposition Members have argued repeatedly—on Second Reading, in scrutiny Committees and in Committee now—that we cannot trust foreign jurisdictions to treat people correctly when we extradite them. At the behest of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, we made provision to deal with the problem, but Opposition Members do not like it and do not want it in the Bill. It is all very strange, as is praying in aid the Ramda case, in which someone is being sought in connection with allegations of terrorism. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon has repeatedly said that he does not care about safeguards when it comes to terrorists: he is concerned only in respect of other sorts of criminality. It is rather confusing.

The truth is that we would be criticised whether or not we included the provision. If we had not included it, hon. Gentlemen would have said that foreign jurisdictions could not be trusted not to mistreat people. So we put the safeguard in and, lo and behold, they stand up and say, ''Isn't it appalling? This safeguard is in the Bill, so doesn't the fact that you have included it prove that it is necessary?'' I am delighted by such contributions.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

The Minister is missing both my points. First, my concerns about criminal jurisdictions in other places have nothing to do with people being prosecuted on grounds of their race, religion or political opinions. I am worried about the slowness and inexactness of procedures, and the fact that, in some countries, the judiciary is not independent of the Government. If the Minister wishes to create a blanket exemption for extradition to countries whose judicial system we do not regard as satisfactory, I go along with that. However, specifying a provision that plays right into the hands of terrorist suspects is extraordinary.

Let us set aside the first part of the case, which the Minister finds amusing. My point about Ramda, which the Minister mocks, is spot on. When I raised the Rachid Ramda case with the Prime Minister, with the Home Secretary and on Second Reading, I was told that it demonstrated precisely the need for this legislation and for the framework directive to stop people running all these appeals, legal loopholes, applications for habeus corpus, judicial review and so forth, which had gone on for seven years—[Interruption.] The Minister shakes his head, but I would be grateful if he would explain why.

Let us suppose that the Bill becomes an Act and someone sets off a bomb in the Paris metro. The person alleged by the French authorities to be responsible comes to the United Kingdom: the authorities issue an arrest warrant, and we arrest the person. When he is brought before the judge, he could

point to section 13 of the Act and insist that he could not possibly secure a fair trial in Paris. He could then re-run all the arguments that have been run in the House of Lords to say why he would not get a fair trial. I do not understand how that could not happen. We are trying to close a loophole and immediately re-opening it.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I cannot remember who is giving way to whom. I gave way to a long intervention, so I still have the Floor.

The dangers that the hon. Gentleman mentioned are not a problem. The proposal simply gives the defendant and his representatives the opportunity to claim, if they so wish, in front of a district judge that a fair trial would not be granted to them for the reasons mentioned. If they can satisfy the district judge that that is so and that they would not receive a fair trial for the reasons stipulated in the clause, within the time frames required by the procedure in part 1, there is a bar to extradition. The clause gives an opportunity to make the case.

In response to the hon. Gentleman's question, that point is covered in the preamble to the framework decision, paragraph (12) of which states:

''This Framework Decision respects fundamental rights and observes the principles recognised by Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union and reflected in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, in particular Chapter VI thereof. Nothing in this Framework Decision may be interpreted as prohibiting refusal to surrender a person for whom a European arrest warrant has been issued when there are reasons to believe, on the basis of objective elements, that the said arrest warrant has been issued for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing a person on the grounds of his or her sex, race, religion, ethnic origin, nationality, language, political opinions or sexual orientation, or that that person's position may be prejudiced for any of these reasons.''

The proposal was included in the Bill at the request of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. There are few, if any, circumstances in which someone will be able to satisfy a judge that such conditions apply to a European partner, but if they are able to make such a case, it must be within the time framework of the European arrest warrant, not over five years, as in the case of certain individuals.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

I am grateful to the Minister for referring me to the relevant paragraph in the framework decision. However, he dismissed my argument that someone in Rachid Ramda's position could run these arguments again under this clause, although perhaps for not quite so long, because there is not scope for so many appeals. However, Rachid Ramda could do so because he has won exactly these two arguments in the House of Lords.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

What is the matter with that? If an individual believes that he is capable of convincing a judge that he will not receive a fair trial for whatever reason, what is the matter with his being entitled to make that case? The problem with the present arrangements is that he can make a case again and again at every stage of the extradition arrangements. He can then apply for those decisions to be subject to judicial review and on it goes, round and round, for years on end. That is what we are trying to prevent. However, we are not trying to prevent people from being able to make a case that they should not be

extradited because their fundamental rights will be denied if they are.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

The clause simply refers to race, religion, nationality and political opinion. Many other fundamental rights might be affected. It is extraordinary that the Government should single out to protect as four areas in which people's rights might be affected exactly the four areas successfully exploited for seven years by someone whose case is among those that led to the Bill. The Minister cannot say that nobody will use the arguments in that way because it is happening as we speak.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.