Clause 148 - The appropriate judge

Extradition Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 16 January 2003.

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

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

This is a short point, but again I seek the Minister's clarification. Opposition Members did not feel that we needed to table an amendment in this respect, but I wanted to probe something that I had noticed. There is a difference between the terms of this clause and clause 66 in part 1, which is also headed ''The appropriate judge''. The list of who the appropriate judge is in clause 148 contains district judges, sheriffs in Scotland and resident magistrates and Crown court judges in Northern Ireland. Unlike the list in part 1, however, the words

''a justice of the peace''

appear in clause 148(1)(a) and (c), for Northern Ireland. Opposition Members are huge fans of the lay magistracy and the role that it plays. We therefore do not object to that, but I wanted to discuss with the Minister the reason why the justice of the peace appears in clause 148 but not clause 66. I am not complaining about the difference, but believe that it would be useful to have the Minister's thoughts on the subject.

During our debate on the matter of British citizens being extradited abroad, we discussed whether a High Court judge was appropriate, because the highest number of requests in any recent recorded year was only 116. We said that a High Court judge should examine all the concerns about British citizens being extradited abroad under part 1, especially given all the arguments about corpus juris and other matters that I need not repeat.

We also discussed whether the appeal should go to the Court of Appeal. When the Committee sat last Tuesday, I did not move our original amendment that suggested that it should go to the Court of Appeal, because we had already had the debate about whether the judge should be a High Court judge, and the Government had said that they were adamant that it should be a district judge at Bow street and his equivalent in Scotland and Northern Ireland. I did not think that we should repeat the debate on my suggestion, but we maintain our belief that it should be a High Court judge.

Will the Minister explain why justices of the peace are considered to be appropriate judges? I am not suggesting that they should be included in clause 66 and not in clause 148, and before he seeks to misrepresent our argument by suggesting that we are undermining faith in the lay magistracy, I must tell him that we are not. I merely noticed the difference and thought that it would be useful to have a debate also on clause stand part.

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

I do not want to repeat what the hon. Member for Surrey Heath said, except to say that the number of cases at issue is small, as has been said several times during our consideration of the Bill. We are, of course, great supporters of the lay magistracy and the local magistrates courts, which are fundamental to ensuring that, in this country, justice

is done and is seen to be done locally. Will the Minister explain the underlying logic behind the definition of ''appropriate judge'' in the clause? Most of all, I am interested to know what information and advice the Minister has received from other putative category 1 territories about the status of the judges whom they will appoint to deal with these matters. Will they have the same status as that defined under the clause?

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

I hope that no member of the Committee finds the clause contentious, despite what the Opposition said. It defines the appropriate judge who will be able to issue a part 3 warrant in response to an application from a constable. We envisage that judge to be a district judge, a justice of the peace or a judge entitled to exercise the jurisdiction of the Crown Court in Scotland, a sheriff in Northern Ireland, a resident magistrate or a Crown Court judge. Clause 141 refers to the appropriate judge as those persons who can issue a part 3 warrant. It is only right and proper that we define those people.

The situation is different with regard to outgoing requests. The people in this country who will be allowed to approve a part 3 warrant at the request of a constable are the same people who can issue domestic warrants. They have the necessary experience to perform that function. The issuing of a part 3 warrant would be appropriate if there was reason to believe that someone was living abroad. However, expertise is needed to deal with the reverse situation. We had the debate about whether a High Court judge should consider the case or whether it should be a district judge at the Bow street magistrates court. Not every district judge will deal with the reverse situation of dealing with requests from abroad. Judges who are designated for that purpose develop a level of expertise in dealing with requests from abroad. District judges in England and Wales are capable of dealing with those matters and developing the required expertise. It would not be necessary or appropriate to designate JPs for part 1 of the Bill. We certainly believe that there is no reason to depart from the practice of allowing the same people to designate a warrant for outgoing requests as are able to designate a domestic arrest warrant.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 10:00, 16 January 2003

It has been useful to hear the Minister's explanation. I am perfectly happy with that. It seems entirely sensible. We are not unhappy with the proposal. JPs can issue domestic warrants, so it seems entirely appropriate. It is also nice for those of us who were fans of the celebrated book about the Irish RM to see the words ''resident magistrate'' in legislation. The book was turned into a successful television series. It is nice to see that resident magistrates still appear in Northern Ireland. Having raised the matter and heard the Minister's explanation, I do not intend to pursue it any further.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 148 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 149 to 152 ordered to stand part of the Bill.