Clause 73 - Person arrested under a provisional warrant

Part of Extradition Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 14th January 2003.

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Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 2:45 pm, 14th January 2003

The limit specified in the Bill is 40 days, and that is the period that currently applies. As the hon. Member for Surrey Heath predicted, I would argue that the reason for the 40-day period is because that is what is specified in the European convention on extradition. At the risk of upsetting him yet again, that convention was passed and adopted by the UK in 1991 under the Conservative Government. However, as well as seeking to upset the hon. Gentleman again—I do not see anything the matter with that—I would also argue that it would cause us a problem if we sought to move away from that provision. The hon. Gentleman asked, quite reasonably, whether such a long period was necessary, but that period is generally specified in

extradition treaties made during the last two centuries. It features in most of the UK's bilateral extradition treaties, and although the hon. Member for Surrey Heath said that there has been a change in his party's position on the issue, we are bound by the convention and by those treaties.

While I am superficially attracted to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath and supported by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that the period could be reduced to 28 days, we would then be required to renegotiate all our extradition treaties and the convention itself.

We are not discussing the European arrest warrant, or any massive draconian measure. I note that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath has stopped using the word ''draconian''—I lost count of the number of times he used it, but he applied it to every clause in part 1. We are talking about part 2 arrangements and what is provided in the existing arrangements. We have a limited ability to move away from 40 days, unless we are prepared to do what has been suggested.

For the record, so that Members can decide whether to continue making representations that 40 days is too long, let me say that exceptions to the 40-day rule are allowed under current regulations only where our bilateral treaties or extradition agreements with other countries specify a longer period. Again, we have translated that into the Bill, as the only possible variation of the time frame is when an Order in Council specifically provides that a longer period is allowed in relation to the category 2 territory.

Forty days has proved appropriate for provisional arrest cases, and we see no reason why that should not continue. That period provides a suitable amount of time for the counsel to prepare the case, which would not be so if we cut it to seven days. If the position is thought through logically, there are good reasons why the period should not be changed. Provisional arrest is most likely to be used in urgent cases where there is a good reason why it has not been possible for a full request to be made.

The amendment would mean that everything—the full request, the paperwork and the evidence or, where appropriate if we drop the prima facie requirement for the particular country, the information—had to be prepared, translated and sent over in haste. That could be, and often is, a significant bundle of documentation. In addition, the papers would then have to be examined by the Secretary of State and, if he considered it appropriate, certified before being sent on to the judge.

It is not feasible to do all that, starting from scratch in the issuing state, in seven days. There would be no time to query any possible errors or omissions, although they would be all the more likely to occur if we forced countries to prepare their case in such a tight time frame. There would be no flexibility if, for example, the Secretary of State was temporarily unavailable, or the seven days happened to begin over the Christmas break.

I understand what the hon. Gentleman said, and I accept that, superficially, the period of time appears long. However, that is the current provision, and an awful lot of work needs to go into these cases. I do not think that there is evidence of undue delays leading to injustice—if people believe that there is, they may present it later—so we are replicating in the new legislation what has existed for some time and is enshrined in various treaties across the world, as well as in the relevant convention.