Clause 179 - Competing claims to extradition

Extradition Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 16th 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

I seek some clarification from the Minister, because the explanatory notes do not clearly show whether there are any changes from the previous legal position in the arrangement for competing claims to extradition. It is likely that the subjects of competing claims to extradition will be serious villains. Will the Minister tell us whether there are concerns about this area of law? It strikes me that these will be among the most serious extradition cases and there will be particular sensitivities. I understand the proposal in clause 179 and there does not seem to be anything wrong with it. I do not object to it in principle, but I hope that the Minister will confirm my analysis that these cases are likely to be particularly significant. If we are talking about serious villains—as in most extraditions—we need to ensure that the law is right, because if we get such cases wrong, they are likely to lead to multiple appeals. I am conscious of what my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) said about the case of Ramda and the length of time people were able to delay matters before the British courts. We do not want to see any loopholes left.

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

I refer the Minister to subsection (3), under which the Secretary of State must take into account various matters. Most of these I can understand; they are clearly based on judicially sound principles:

''the relative seriousness of the offences concerned'',

which is obvious; and

''the date when the warrant was issued''.

The priority of time is often a legal principle; one is protected by the speed with which one acts. I do not understand the consideration in paragraph (b):

''the place where each offence was committed (or was alleged to have been committed)''.

I should like the Minister to explain its relevance as a criterion for the Secretary of State's decision on competing extradition claims. These conflicts are difficult and it is important to specify what details the Secretary of State should take into account in reflecting on these matters and reaching his conclusions.

Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Criminal Justice System IT)

I am grateful to both Opposition spokesmen for raising important issues. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath is right to say that some quite dangerous people may be committing these serious offences, so we must be careful and clear. Competing requests have never been dealt with in law. Until now, it has been purely at the discretion of the Secretary of State. The clause's purpose is precisely to pin down the criteria and the procedures.

The hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon asked about the relevance of place. It is quite straightforward: it is to help the Secretary of State to differentiate between an offence committed in the requesting country and one in a third state. ''Place'' is therefore one of the criteria that must be taken into account.

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

I am thinking about the question asked by the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon. In the Pinochet case, the request came from a Spanish magistrate, but related to crimes committed in the native country of Chile. Is that the sort of case that the Minister has in mind?

Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Criminal Justice System IT)

Yes. I do not want to make a judgment about that particular case, but it is precisely what is envisaged in the provision. I hope that the Committee will accept that we are attempting to bring some clarity to the procedure in highly serious cases. As a result of my assurance to both hon. Gentlemen, I hope that the Committee will accept the clause.

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

The courts will probably reflect on what we say in Committee today with an eye to judicial review. I understand the Minister's difficulties, but could he give us a little more guidance? He is talking about the circumstances in which a requesting country and a third state are involved. One could conceive of having to make a choice between two requesting countries. I do not fully understand where ''place'' enters the picture in the circumstances posited by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, for example, where a Spanish jurisdiction seeks extradition of a Chilean national. I acknowledge that these are sensitive matters, but it is wise for us to attempt to

tease the problems out and make the law as clear as possible on behalf of judges as well as litigants.

Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Criminal Justice System IT)

I am happy to be teased by the hon. Gentleman as long as he wishes to continue, but he is slightly missing the point. He is trying to pin me down to a hierarchy of considerations. I refer him to the clear wording of subsection (3), where

''the Secretary of State must take account of these matters''.

It is left to the Secretary of State's discretion to weigh them up in the particular circumstances of each case. I will refrain from passing judgment on a particular case. We are trying to introduce clarity into delicate and sensitive cases that might be subject to protracted legal proceedings. If judicial review is relevant, the Secretary of State will have to take into account the considerations specified in the clause. It would be inappropriate to pin it down more firmly than that. It slightly misses the point and purpose of the clause.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 3:45 pm, 16th January 2003

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I am glad that I asked whether this was new law. For once the answer was yes, which emphasises how seriously we need to look at competing claims. I understand entirely the points made by the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon. There is a more general point to which the Minister may not want to respond today. I hope that he and those who advise him will bear this in mind.

In this new era of pre-legislative scrutiny it would be helpful if the explanatory notes were a little more clear. Opposition parties and outside organisations do not have armies of civil servants. When we are talking about complex legislation, it would assist us if the explanatory notes indicated when a clause was a restatement of the law and when, as here, it was a new provision they pointed that out and explained why.

I do not criticise the explanatory notes at all. I would not want the Minister to think that. It is helpful to have explanatory notes but my suggestion would be a useful addition to them. I do not expect the Minister to be able to give an undertaking to do that, but I put it on the record now, as this is an example where it would be terribly helpful to have that distinction made. This is one of the rare occasions when I have asked the question and not been told that this is what has always happened.

I understand that the Minister is trying to be as helpful as he can. He does not want to lay down a precise hierarchy, but I do not want to resile from the importance of the points made by the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon. I agree with them. The Government may wish to look carefully at this. The matter might be explored again in another place. There may be experts on extradition who want to contribute to the debate. It has been a useful little debate. I am glad that I was able to tease some more detail out of the Minister.

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

I am not surprised to have received the reply that I got from the Minister. As the hon. Member for Surrey Heath said, it is likely that the

matter will be probed rather more in another place. It is fair for judges and litigants to know exactly where they stand, the weight to be given to these different conditions and criteria and the reasons for them. I heard what the Minister said. We might revisit this at a later stage.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 179 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 180 and 181 ordered to stand part of the Bill.