Clause 21 - Human rights

Extradition Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 14th January 2003.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 10:00 am, 14th January 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 99, in

clause 21, page 9, line 20, after 'decide', insert

', on the evidence before him and on the evidence of his own personal knowledge or based on his own enquiries,'.

Once again, I can be brief with another amendment suggested by the Law Society of England and Wales, which the Liberal Democrats also support.

The amendment is designed to ensure that the judiciary, or any judge hearing the proceedings, is fully satisfied about the operation and application of the Human Rights Act. The Law Society believes in placing a positive obligation on the judiciary to make inquiries into any breach of a suspect's rights if extradition takes place. Will the Minister confirm that the clause will allow a court to take into account various proportionality arguments, such as extreme compassionate circumstances, triviality or unreasonable delays—for example, the de minimis provisions mentioned by the Minister and the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon a short while ago? I am not suggesting that the wording is perfect, but I hope that the Minister will take the amendment seriously in the spirit with which it was introduced.

Photo of Mr John Burnett Mr John Burnett Liberal Democrat, Torridge and West Devon

I have little to add to the comments of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. Liberal Democrat names were added to the amendment because it is only fair to oblige a judge to make inquiries into a possible

breach of a suspect's rights, which should be an integral part of the process. Compliance with human rights legislation should be built into the Bill. We hope that the Minister will view the amendment favourably.

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

On the assumption that we shall not have a clause stand part debate, I shall put some wider issues to the Minister. First, if the clause were not in the Bill, would the individual whose extradition is being sought have these rights in any event? In other words, do these rights apply regardless of the Bill?

Secondly, when we debated clause 13 on extraneous considerations, I suggested that it cast some doubt about whether we could rely on the competence of other judicial systems. Presumably, the extraneous considerations in that clause would be protected by human rights. I therefore wonder why both clause 13 and clause 21 are judged necessary. Indeed, if the rights already exist under the Human Rights Act, which I understand overrides all other legislation, why is either clause necessary?

Thirdly, clause 21 refers to the European convention on human rights. The preamble in paragraph 12 of the framework document deals with the charter of fundamental rights and article 6 of the treaty of European Union. Why are we using one definition in the framework document and another in the Bill? In our debate on clause 13, the Minister referred me to the preamble, which sets out the exact wording. However, the charter of fundamental rights is not the same as the European convention on human rights. Will the Minister help me to understand why some provisions are based on the one, and others on the other?

Finally, as I said when we debated clause 13, if a person already possesses rights under the Human Rights Act, the point falls, but if not, the provision opens a Pandora's box of extraneous defences. I refer once again to the case of Rachid Ramda who has been in jail in the UK fighting extradition to France for serious terrorist allegations, including blowing people up on the Paris metro. The main basis of his defence is that a Muslim cannot secure a fair trial in France. French law allows the evidence of a co-conspirator—or co-defendant who has already been convicted—to be used against another defendant. These arguments have run in the House of Lords and Rachid Ramda has succeeded in maintaining his case for seven years. The House of Lords threw out the Home Secretary's decision on the basis of this reasoning. The Home Secretary now has the matter back on his desk for reconsideration.

I support the Government in wanting to tighten and shorten extradition procedures, particularly for terrorist suspects. Another group of three have been fighting extradition proceedings for years for the 1998 bombings in east Africa. Had they been extradited, it is at least possible that their questioning by American authorities would have prevented further terrorist acts, including, perhaps, the recent one in Mombassa. Such cases—and, worst of all, that of Rachid Ramda—are fought on the grounds that Muslims cannot secure a fair trial in France. If that is true of France, in what European country can they secure a fair trial? If we all

had to take our chances with another country's judicial procedures, I would have thought France, Germany and Sweden would rank fairly high on the list. Some of us have expressed doubts about Greece, Spain and Italy, but surely not France. If the House of Lords seriously believes that a Muslim cannot get a fair trial in Paris, one wonders what this legislation is about.

As I said, my point falls if rights exist under the Human Rights Act, but I am worried about reintroducing into the procedure a series of defences that I understood that the Government wanted to exclude.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

Before we proceed, I want to make it clear that I allowed that contribution to run on the assumption that it counts as a clause stand part debate. If anyone wishes to make a point about the clause, they should speak now in our debate on amendment No. 99.

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

The clause is unambiguous that extradition cannot take place if it is incompatible with a fugitive's rights under the Human Rights Act. As the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon rightly said, we debated the issue on clause 13. Surely neither he nor I would want someone, whatever they are accused of, to be prevented from arguing that their extradition to a particular country would breach their human rights. Does the hon. Gentleman really want that? Surely what we both want to prevent is the possibility of doing so repeatedly for months, or sometimes years. The hon. Gentleman has referred to the relevant cases.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights believed that it was right to have clause 20 in the Bill. I have sometimes heard Opposition Members put the reverse argument to their current one in other Committees—I recall the Liberal Democrats in the Proceeds of Crime Bill—that specific reference to the Human Rights Act should appear in every piece of legislation before Parliament. We are burnt or scalded. If we build the provision into the Bill, we are asked why it is necessary, and if we do not, we are asked why not. It is unambiguously set out in the Bill that people should not be prevented from alleging that their human rights would be breached and that they could not secure a fair trial in another jurisdiction. That is fine by me. Extradition will be barred if they can convince the district judge that that will be the outcome. We are trying to prevent exactly the sort of situation about which the hon. Gentleman complains: that is, people being able judicially to review many of the stages of the extradition procedure and spin the proceedings out, in some cases for many a long year. That is one of the main things that we are trying to do.

The amendment has tickled several people with whom I have had dealings. On Second Reading on 9 December, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) said that he believed that the adversarial system employed by the United Kingdom is far superior to the continental system of investigating magistrates. However, he tabled an amendment that states that the judge must decide

''on the evidence before him and on the evidence of his own personal knowledge or based on his own enquiries''.

Here we have a Conservative party, supported, less surprisingly, by the Liberal Democrats, trying to introduce the European investigative system of magistrates into British law.

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

What else are they trying to do? At present, the judge hears arguments for and against in the time-honoured way that the right hon. Member for West Dorset says is far superior to any other country's judicial system.

However, we have a request from the Opposition—the hon. Gentleman cannot push everything on to the Law Society, for whom he tabled the amendment—that the judge not only listens to the arguments for and against, but gets out of his chair and conducts his own investigations. That is not necessary. It is for the judge to draw his conclusions after having heard the arguments for and against in the good old, time-honoured way of the English and Welsh judicial system. I am sure that something very similar applies north of the border. I am extremely surprised, as are several other people who advise me, that the hon. Gentleman should suggest that the practice should be different.

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

I am sure that the Minister enjoyed that little flight of fancy. He knows perfectly well that our amendment begins

''on the evidence before him''.

We do not seek to replace the adversarial system. The words:

''on the evidence before him''

do not mean that we are turning the judge into an investigative magistrate. We are simply saying that the adversarial system should have another protection that in no way replaces it. The Minister can have his moment of fun. We do not seek to press the amendment to a vote, but there is a serious point to make, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon and the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon reinforced, and we hope that the Minister will consider the matter more seriously than he has just done. I have no doubt that the matter will be considered again in another place and on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 22 to 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.