It is a pleasure to sit under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Leigh. I join everyone else in congratulating my hon. Friend Mr Raab on gaining this debate. He and I have fought on the same side in many civil liberties battles over the years and will continue to do so. I thank him for the thoughtful tone of his introduction, which infused the debate and continued up to and including the speech made by Chris Bryant on behalf of the Opposition. I am happy to assure my hon. Friend Nick de Bois that we will indeed take very seriously the points that have been made in the debate. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said in the House last week in respect of the extradition review, the Government are currently considering what action to take on these issues. As he made clear, we welcome these debates and the representations that have been made.
We have seen a number of high-profile extradition cases in recent years. The surrender of a person to another country to face trial is always a challenging and difficult process both for the person concerned and for his or her family. What is vital, and what the Government have said repeatedly in the context of the extradition review, is that we strike the correct balance between seeking redress for victims of crime, while protecting the fundamental rights of suspects brought to justice. That is the underlying principle that lies beneath today’s debate and it is why the debate is so useful. As has been said repeatedly this afternoon, a number of issues linked to our extradition arrangements have been of long-standing concern to Parliament.
Since the Extradition Act 2003 came into force, there have been numerous debates in Committees and on the Floors of both Houses. The issues range from the UK’s extradition arrangements with the United States, the forum bars to extradition and the European arrest warrant and they have all been debated at length. In addition, there have been various public debates and campaigns on specific cases and issues relating to extradition. A lot was said under the previous Government by the then Opposition parties about these issues. On coming into government we recognised that there were long-standing and deeply held concerns that we wanted to address. That is why the coalition’s programme for government document made a clear commitment to
“review the operation of the Extradition Act–and the US/UK extradition treaty–to make sure it is even-handed.”
In September 2010, the Home Secretary announced an independent review of the UK’s extradition arrangements. The review was chaired by Sir Scott Baker, a former Lord Justice of Appeal who presided over the inquests into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi al-Fayed. Sir Scott was assisted by two lawyers, David Perry QC and Anand Doobay, who between them have a wealth of experience of extradition from both a prosecutorial and a defence perspective. That independent panel undertook an extensive examination of the issues, including a very thorough and careful consultation process, with a range of parties representing all shades of opinion on the subject.
It is clear from this afternoon’s debate that the conclusions that the panel reached are not attracting universal assent. It has been very interesting to hear the views that have been expressed this afternoon, and I promise the House that those opinions will be given the most careful scrutiny before we reveal to the House the action we propose to take in response to the extradition review.
We have learned this afternoon that my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Menzies Campbell and his commission on behalf of the Liberal Democrat party will publish a report on extradition; I think he said that it will be published as soon as possible. We discovered that the Home Affairs Committee is to publish a report in February. Clearly, the debate is not at an end and there will perhaps be a plethora of further responses, all of which will feed into the Government’s own consideration of the Scott Baker recommendations.
Although I am responding to the general part of today’s debate on extradition, it is important that I refer to some individual cases, not least because the case of Babar Ahmad is cited specifically in the context of today’s debate and, as has been said several times, the
shadow Justice Secretary has sat here throughout the debate. He is enforcedly silent because of the rules of the House, but I know that he has been playing a most proper and energetic role defending his constituent’s interests in this case.
I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton said that he did not want this to be a dry lawyer’s debate. I have never been accused of being either dry or a lawyer, but I am afraid that I am forced to go into the legal undergrowth in the Babar Ahmad case, and indeed that of Gary McKinnon.
I will start with the background on Mr Ahmad’s case. He was arrested for extradition purposes in August 2004. His case was dealt with under the Extradition Act 2003. Under the normal scheme of that Act, extradition hearings take place before a district judge at the City of Westminster magistrates court. The court found that there were no bars to Mr Ahmad’s surrender, whether on human rights or any of the other grounds that the court considers. Accordingly, the district judge sent the case to the Home Secretary for a decision under the 2003 Act as to Babar Ahmad’s surrender. As part of that process, it was then open to Mr Ahmad and those acting for him to make representations as to why he should not be surrendered. Following due consideration, it was decided to order surrender. At that point, Mr Ahmad had a statutory right of appeal against the decision of the district judge to send the case to the Home Secretary and the decision of the Home Secretary to order surrender. That appeal took place in July 2006 before the High Court and judgment was given in November that year, when the appeal was dismissed. There followed a petition for leave to appeal to the House of Lords, which in June 2007 refused leave. In that way, Mr Ahmad exhausted all the available domestic avenues for contesting the request for his extradition.
Mr Ahmad then applied to the European Court of Human Rights. On