Clause 185 - Asylum appeal to High Court

Extradition Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 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 am seeking reassurance from the Minister on a point that applies to both clauses 185 and 186, so perhaps he could deal with them together.

I was not sure whether the hon. Member for Doncaster, North was rising in his seat to try to catch my eye to intervene, but perhaps not. Given that he was so helpful last time he intervened, supporting our side and not his own, I live in hope.

We are concerned, and I know that the Government are also concerned, that there will be no slowing down of extradition, and that people will be able to appeal at every stage. I refer to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon about the length of appeals, and the length of time spent in the courts delaying the extradition of someone who should have been dealt with years ago by the courts of France. I want to ensure that the Government felt that they were toughening up the legislation sufficiently. Certainly I know that the Minister, unlike his fellow Minister, will not be able to accuse the Opposition this time of trying to water down the provisions. We are asking whether this legislation is tough enough, and whether there is still a danger that people will be able to slow things down by concurrently running asylum claims and trying to battle against extradition.

I suspect that this may be an area in which the law is new, and therefore differs from the previous extradition legislation. In this brief stand part debate, will the Minister speak about those matters in relation to this clause and to clause 186, so that I need not raise the same point again on the next clause?

Photo of Mr John Burnett Mr John Burnett Liberal Democrat, Torridge and West Devon 4:00 pm, 16th January 2003

I also look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on situations in which there are concurrent claims for extradition and asylum. Presumably it is envisaged that the extradition proceedings will be closed before the asylum proceedings, but perhaps the Minister will let me have his views on how the provisions will work. We wish to ensure that there is a fair system of adjudication in both areas, that the claims of those who come here as asylum seekers and who are sought for extradition are properly and fairly weighed up, that the necessary civil rights and liberties are accorded to them, and that we do not seek to be moved too fast and too far by the fashion of the moment.

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

The contributions of the hon. Members for Surrey Heath and for Torridge and West Devon tell us exactly what the clause is designed to do. Of course we must deal with an expeditious disposal of the process. The problems, which I will spell out, are costly, bureaucratic, and deny justice in the fullest sense of the word. Equally, as the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon said, we must balance the rights of the individual, which is what the clause aims to do.

The clause deals with a situation in which someone who is subject to extradition proceedings has claimed asylum but has been refused. Ordinarily, that person can appeal to an adjudicator. The clause replaces that appeal, as reference to section 83 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, with an appeal to the High Court. Under existing legislation, someone who is the subject of an extradition request would be entitled to apply for asylum like anyone else. Refusal of their application would open up several avenues to appeal the decision, which, when added to the various routes of appeal in extradition cases, could lead to a lengthy and complex process that overlaps with and duplicates arguments in court.

The provisions simplify and expedite the process while safeguarding the rights of the individual. The Government are determined that the asylum system should not be abused to delay a person's extradition. At the same time, we must be concerned that no person is deprived of the fundamental right to seek refuge in the face of persecution. Clauses 185 and 186 ensure that the asylum system will not be abused, but that it will not unfairly deprive the individual of their fundamental human rights. We have been invited to go further, which we do not want to do, and risk breaking our obligations under the refugee convention. Taken as a whole, clauses 185 and 39 strike a balance between these two different imperatives.

I hope that I have managed to satisfy both hon. Gentlemen.

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

I am trying to determine whether an individual who is claiming asylum will have his full rights and entitlement under British law to proceed with his claim, whether he will be able to resist extradition proceedings under the provisions, and whether his rights will not be unnecessarily and unfairly curtailed.

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

I am sorry if I have not already given the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I sought to make it clear that there will be no unfair and unnecessary curtailment of an individual's fundamental human rights.

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

Under asylum legislation and extradition legislation.

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

That has been made clear. We are replacing the existing mechanisms with an appeal to the High Court, which is a more expeditious way of dealing with the issue. Otherwise, we would run into the problems about which the hon. Member for Surrey Heath is concerned, as are the Government. The asylum process is in place to protect vulnerable people fleeing persecution. It is not to be abused by people who properly and rightly should be extradited to whatever country to face justice. That is our concern. The asylum system must not be abused, but we must protect the fundamental human rights of any individual. The clause achieves both those objectives.

Clause 185 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 186 to 190 ordered to stand part of the Bill.