Backbench Business

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:48 pm on 20th April 2017.

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Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing and the Fire Service) 3:48 pm, 20th April 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. From the closing remarks of Lyn Brown, I feel some pressure to perform at a high level. I thank my hon. Friend David T. C. Davies for the opportunity to discuss this important subject. I will come in a moment to the points that he raised, and to those made by Keith Vaz. To respond to the Chairman’s comments about literature at the start of this debate, I think it was Alfred Tennyson who said, “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.” The quality of this debate highlights that that has possibly never been truer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth and I have had a number of useful discussions regarding the European arrest warrant, and I know that he shares the Government’s strong commitment to practical co-operation on security, law enforcement and criminal justice. Over the next few minutes, I want to outline my response to his comments about how the European arrest warrant works. I will then move on to some of the points raised by other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for West Ham, about the future and where we are going as we leave the European Union and deliver what people voted for last year.

Members have referred to individual European arrest warrant cases. I am sure that they and the House will appreciate that I am not able to reflect on ongoing cases, although I will touch on a couple of specific points in relation to non-ongoing cases. It is also useful to note and worth putting on the record clearly that, as hon. Members will be aware, Ministers have no involvement in decision making in respect to European arrest warrants. Instead, it is left to our independent judiciary, which makes decisions following an initial decision by the National Crime Agency on whether to certify a case, as I will explain.

We believe that the European arrest warrant, with the stringent safeguards that we have implemented and the changes that we have recently made, which I will come to, remains an effective tool for co-operation with our European partners. I will outline what some of those safeguards are in light of the changes, to reassure anybody looking at what we say today. In the last Parliament, the Government reformed our domestic legislation to improve the European arrest warrant’s effectiveness. We established new provisions to prevent extradition in prosecution cases where it would be disproportionate, and to ensure that dual criminality must be established in all cases where part of the conduct took place in the UK. As such, a case will not get as far as the court for a decision unless the NCA is satisfied, first, that the alleged conduct would be a criminal offence in the UK and, secondly, that proceeding with the extradition is proportionate. That is the certification process I mentioned.

Those safeguards work, and the National Crime Agency has refused to certify incoming cases that are obviously trivial or do not meet the dual criminality requirements. Colleagues have made points about the facts and figures, so I will give an example. Between July 2014 and May 2016, the NCA refused some 53 European arrest warrant requests for being disproportionate, and 249 for failure to meet the dual criminality bar.

Members also mentioned Andrew Symeou’s case and the legitimate concern about people being detained for long periods overseas before being charged or standing trial. The new provisions ensure that individuals cannot be subject to lengthy periods of pre-trial detention when extradited under the European arrest warrant, because in general a decision has to be made by the issuing judicial authority to charge and to try the requested person before an arrest warrant is executed. That backs up the point made by the then Home Secretary, our Prime Minister, when discussing this provision in the House in 2014, when she said that the principle was that we would no longer see people being surrendered and having to wait months or years for a decision to be made on whether to charge or try them.