Clause 105 - Transit of prisoners

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 13th October 2011.

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Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Justice) (Prisons and Probation) 10:15 am, 13th October 2011

The purpose of the clause is to put in place powers to enable the United Kingdom to facilitate the transit of prisoners through its territory. Such prisoners will be transferring from another state to a third state where there is a treaty between those states for a prisoner to be repatriated. The prisoner will not have been prosecuted, convicted or sentenced in the UK. Transit arrangements would normally mean enabling a prisoner and escort to transfer from one aeroplane to another at one of our international airports.

We expect requests under this power to be few in number and only for the purpose of enforcing a sentence of imprisonment lawfully passed on a prisoner by an appropriate court in the sentencing state. In most cases the prisoner concerned will have given his consent to transfer and will be returning to his country of nationality, where he can serve his sentence close to his family and friends, aiding his rehabilitation back into society.

The amendment proposes an addition to clause 105 that would require Ministers to make a declaration that a prisoner subject to transit through the territory of the UK would not be at risk of execution, torture or persecution in the country to which they are being transferred, and to make arrangements for the publication of that declaration.

The Government’s position on the death penalty is unequivocal and any request for transit for the purpose of carrying out the death penalty would be refused. Transit is provided for in all our existing prisoner transfer arrangements. With the exception of the EU framework decision on prisoner transfer, where there is a requirement to facilitate transit, transit is discretionary, and Ministers are able to refuse any request, and they will of course do so, if they have any concerns about an individual transit request or a particular state to which the prisoner is being transferred.

In those circumstances, I do not believe that it is necessary or appropriate for Ministers to make a declaration as proposed. In addition, I have mentioned the EU prisoner transfer agreement, which requires us to facilitate transfer if requested. However under that agreement transit involves the transit of a prisoner only from one EU member state to another. Each member state is bound by the European convention on human rights and we would expect each state fully to honour its commitments and obligations.

The UK will have no jurisdiction to interfere in international agreements made between two separate states where they are transferring a prisoner in accordance with those arrangements. The UK will expect other countries to facilitate transfers of foreign national prisoners repatriated from the UK; it plays its part in doing the same for other states. Those are all prisoners who have been convicted and sentenced. A declaration such as that sought by the amendment may give a prisoner on arrival in the UK the right to challenge the UK’s decision to allow further transit. Furthermore, a Minister could not properly make such a declaration based on information given by the relevant state when, not being party to the arrangements or the prisoner’s views, the Minister would have no means of verifying such information.

I hope, in the light of that information and the rather limited circumstances in which and to whom the provision would apply, that the hon. Lady will withdraw her amendment.