Clause 193 - National security

Part of Extradition Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 21st January 2003.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 10:00 am, 21st January 2003

It is difficult to set a specific limit when we do not know how the legal systems of all the other countries will work. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon just said sotto voce, 12 months is the maximum sentence that someone could receive in theory. The problem is that, even under United Kingdom law, the maximum sentence might be set at 12 months for a defendant who is appearing before the UK courts in ordinary circumstances and who is not subject to extradition. All of us, especially those who practise in the courts, know that people who are convicted of such a crime usually receive no more than a small fine.

I do not believe that the Minister will want to hang his hat on the argument that we will extradite every British citizen who might face a charge just because the

maximum sentence available is 12 months in some foreign jurisdiction. The term should be three years, as the Opposition suggest and as the Labour-dominated Select Committee strongly recommended. That would be our primary approach to the extradition of people from this country, and would be some safeguard. We would also give the Secretary of State the discretion to state that an offence was trivial, even if it carried a maximum sentence of three years under some strange foreign jurisdiction.

I referred to cases that Robert Roscoe, the specialist extradition solicitor, drew to our attention, in which people were extradited under the current law for offences that were later deemed to be so trivial that they were released without charge and were able to return. The Government went through all the expense of arrest and extradition. That was under the current law, so there is concern about the need for a de minimis threshold. We contend that it should be three years in the main part of the Bill, but the Secretary of State should have a residual discretion. We are trying to put that back. I do not think that unreasonable, and I hope that the Government will consider it seriously.

The next point is about political reasons. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon uses the very good example of Pinochet. That case involved a request not from a Chilean magistrate—a magistrate from the country where the crimes were alleged to have been committed—but from one of our European Union partners, a Spanish magistrate called Garzon. I think it bizarre that someone in another country should request, even under our current law, that the United Kingdom arrest someone for alleged crimes in a third country that is not a European country and that is on another continent.

I was very critical at the time, and have been ever since, of a range of decisions that the then Home Secretary, who is now the Foreign Secretary, took in that case. I think that I know why there was that knee-jerk reaction against this man whom we all demonstrated against as students. Some who are now Cabinet Ministers were student activists, and I remember from when I was at university all the demonstrations led by the left against Chile and Pinochet. Someone said, ''Senator Pinochet is in the UK for medical treatment. We've got to do something about him. He's a bad man.'' That is the reason for the knee-jerk reaction to put him under house arrest. It cost my local police authority in Surrey a fortune, which in the end was taxpayers' money down the drain.

Our concern is that the Bill opens up a great deal more opportunity for people who have been Heads of State, Ministers or even officials, as my hon. Friend said, to be arrested on a political basis. However much I disagree with Labour Ministers, I do not think that any Minister properly carrying out his or her functions should be open years later to the risk of being arrested—[Interruption.] The Minister says, ''Oh, come on,'' but I am trying to protect him. Who knows? In the next reshuffle, he might be transferred

to the Foreign Office. I am sure that he would do a very good job there, hard-working as he is.

We can all smile about that, but there is a very serious point. During the fighting in former Yugoslavia it was suggested by many people, not least Milosevic—he said it again in his war crimes trial—that those who should be put on trial were not people such as Milosevic, but the western leaders. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility for a magistrate or judicial authority, using a bizarre procedure such as the one in Italy that I have described, to request a warrant against a UK political leader, as Magistrate Garzon did against Pinochet. We want to retain a wider discretion.

The Minister must think about how much taxpayers' money could be wasted to deal with a formal request from a Greek magistrate for an arrest warrant against a British Minister. That is not a matter to dismiss with a smile, as the Minister seems to; it is a serious point, and I hope that he will take it more seriously than he seems to have done so far.

My final point is very important: it is about unconscionable delay. Again, I refer to the cases such as those to which the extradition solicitor Robert Roscoe drew our attention and to which I referred earlier. I shall not repeat them, but in a number of cases there have been huge delays. If such delays had affected someone in the constituency of any member of the Committee, they would regard them as leading to manifest injustice. Whether the Italian or the Belgian courts are involved—those two have caused problems in the past under the existing law—if there has been a huge delay in the request for extradition, the Secretary of State should surely have an unconscionable delay discretion. That is what the third of our new clauses would provide.

I have taken time to set out my position, but I hope that I have made an important series of points and that the Minister will take them seriously. I know that he cannot give detailed responses today to all the details that I have given of the Italian procedure, but I hope that he will respond to all those concerns seriously. Even if he cannot accept our new clauses as they stand, I hope that he will at least give continuing thought to whether the Government might introduce something along those lines on Report or in another place, because it is very important to have something like those provisions in the Bill. I rather suspect that, particularly in another place, where there are many distinguished lawyers who are able to comment on this, they will share some of the concerns about dual criminality and the safeguard against abuses that the Home Affairs Committee set out in paragraph 31 of its report. Unless the Minister is able to address all those matters, he will have problems in another place. I believe that by the time the Bill becomes an Act, it will include something to take account of delay, political reasons and de minimis. I hope that the Minister will take that seriously.