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British Prisoners Overseas

Volume 400: debated on Wednesday 26 February 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in how many cases of British nationals convicted abroad since 1997 the Government have intervened to seek release or reduction in sentence; and how many of these people were (a) white and (b) non-white. [98456]

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) changed its clemency policy towards British nationals detained overseas in May 2001. Under the new policy, HMG will now consider supporting appeals on compassionate grounds, where there is prima facie evidence of a miscarriage of justice, or where the prisoner is a minor. An appeal for clemency is a request to the detaining state to release the prisoner unconditionally, not reduce the original sentence. Since the new policy came into effect, we have supported appeals on behalf of 15 British nationals. The FCO does not hold statistics on representations made before the introduction of the new clemency policy. Nor does it record the ethnic origin of those who are offered consular assistance.As a general rule, HMG will lobby against the death penalty imposed on any British national overseas. In this instance, HMG is not appealing for unconditional release, but for the death penalty to be commuted to imprisonment. We have supported 11 such cases since May 2001.Other than lobbying against the death penalty, HMG would not normally appeal for a reduction in sentence. This is on the basis that states must recognise the rights of other sovereign states to sentence according to their own laws. However, HMG would consider making representations to a sentencing state if a British national appeared to have been harshly sentenced purely because of nationality. There have been no instances of this since at least May 2001.The welfare of British nationals detained overseas is of primary concern to the FCO. We ensure that prisoners are visited regularly and we raise any concerns that we, prisoners or their relatives may have about their treatment or the conduct of their trial. As a last resort, when all other options have failed, we will consider supporting an appeal for clemency under the criteria outlined above.