[Relevant document: Fifteenth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2010-12 HC 767]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Bill Wiggin.)
It is a tremendous pleasure and privilege to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, for, I believe, the first time. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for a debate on this subject in Westminster Hall. I welcome the presence and participation of the Immigration Minister and thank him in advance for engaging proactively on such an important issue.
The Home Office is often berated for letting too many people into the United Kingdom, so it is something of a novelty for Ministers to face the reverse criticism. Yet, as the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, pointed out in its most recent report on extradition, there are flaws in and widespread concerns about our extradition laws. There are concerns about the UK-US extradition treaty of 2003, in which paragraph 3(c) of article 8 sets different evidential thresholds for the two countries. The United States did not ratify the treaty until 2007, but for clarity, my understanding is that it has relied on the lower burden of proof available to it since 2004.
Lawyers can bicker about whether there is a substantive difference between the requirement that the US has to satisfy—the reasonable suspicion test—and the requirement that the UK has to satisfy, which is showing probable cause. The fact is that, in operational terms, since 2004, 24 Britons have been extradited to the United States under the new arrangements, and just one American has been extradited to Britain. In practice, in the way they affect our respective citizens, the arrangements have practically been all one way.
The main problem, in my view—others will speak about the individual cases of their constituents—is the absence of any discretion to allow the UK to decline extradition in cross-border cases, having taken into account the interests of justice. That has been the problem in the case of Gary McKinnon, which is equally, or more about the injustice in dispatching a young man with Asperger’s syndrome hundreds of miles from home on allegations of computer hacking, when he was apparently searching for unidentified flying objects, than about the alleged offence or the evidential threshold. More misfit than terrorist, he should not be equated with some high-level al-Qaeda suspect or gangster.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this incredibly important debate and on raising the case of my constituent, Gary McKinnon, at an early stage. My hon. Friend has already mentioned the issue of disparity. Does there not seem to be a self-evident statistical disparity? I understand that, in the past 40 years, three suspected terrorists were extradited from the United States to this country, in comparison with the situation facing Gary McKinnon, who is being prosecuted on the basis of alleged terrorism.
I thank my hon. Friend for that historical context, and I certainly accept it. It is important to have a practical, operational background about the numbers of cases, so that the debate does not become a dry, lawyer’s debate about the terms of the treaty or the Extradition Act 2003.
We have legislation in place to inject a dose of common sense and discretion into the McKinnon case and other such cases. The Government ought to bring that into force as a matter of priority.
I understand the US’s concern. I have spoken to officials from the US embassy, and I understand their concerns regarding the treaty’s operation. They make quite strong arguments about the discrepancy between the evidential thresholds. None the less, in the US’s extradition treaty relations with, to name but a few, Brazil, Mexico and Australia, the domestic authorities in those countries have the right to decline extradition in these and much wider circumstances. Why should Britain, a stalwart ally, not request such a modest adjustment?
The problems created by the European arrest warrant have proven to be even more serious and far more widespread than those created by the US treaty. First, there are cases that are exemplified by the case of Andrew Symeou. Andrew, a British student, was whisked off to Greece under a European arrest warrant for involvement in a fight at a nightclub that left another man dead, which is a serious offence. Andrew was extradited, despite eye-witness accounts that he was not at the club at the time.
Fast-track European Union extradition is based on the assumption that standards of justice are adequate across Europe. We all put our faith in that assumption, but I am afraid that the Symeou case and many others show that that assumption is a sham and a fraud. We cannot understand the operation of the EAW without understanding that fraud—the assumption that all the justice systems operate to a similarly high standard.
Let us look at the Symeou case. Greek police beat identical statements out of witnesses, which were then retracted. Andrew Symeou spent almost a year in squalid prison conditions before being bailed. He was left with a flea-ridden blanket in a cell exposed to a sewer and crawling with cockroaches. He was abused by guards and witnessed another prisoner being beaten to death for drug money. The trial proceeded at a snail’s pace, with court translators who spoke scant English. He was eventually cleared in June this year, after a two-year ordeal, and he was left to rebuild his life.
The independent Baker review, commissioned by the coalition to look into the operation of our extradition relations, makes absolutely no recommendations for preventing such horror stories being inflicted on other innocent people—I use the word “innocent” advisedly, although that was clearly the case for Andrew Symeou. The Symeou case highlights the need for a higher evidential threshold—a prima facie test—to militate against the risk that fast-track extradition goes ahead on manifestly tainted evidence or spurious grounds.
The Baker report merely suggests that, over time and with effort, the justice systems and prison conditions across Europe will get better. All of us in the Chamber may well hope for that, but that view is naive at best and reckless at worst. I urge the Government to ignore that legalistic and simplistic analysis and think about what innocent people such as Andrew Symeou actually go through in real life.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way on that point about my constituent. I, too, congratulate him on securing the debate.
While in prison, many of Andrew Symeou’s human rights were fundamentally breached. Does my hon. Friend agree that unfortunately, the Scott Baker report clearly believes that, because there is mutual recognition and all EU members have signed up to the European convention on human rights, we are not right to presume any fundamental breaches of human rights?
That is exactly the point, and exactly why the assumptions that underwrite the European arrest warrant are fraudulent. I cannot think of any other way of putting it.
It is not good enough just to sit back and hit and hope on the Greek justice system getting better. For one thing, it may be getting worse. Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index is a well regarded measure of standards of justice in national administration and legal systems. On a score of one to 10—one being the most corrupt—Greece has fallen from 4.2 to 3.5 in the past 10 years.
Even if there were grounds for optimism that the Greek justice system would improve over time, which we all hope for, we need to protect our citizens right now—not in five or 10 years’ time, but today. That is why we need an amendment to the European arrest warrant framework decision, a prima facie test, a proportionality safeguard, and the other recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
In fairness to the Baker review, it acknowledged the case for an amendment to the EAW to accommodate a proportionality test, which is one of the other crucial safeguards that are required. However, in other areas the report ignores, almost wholesale, major flaws in the current arrangements. It casually disregards evidence that shows that warrants are being issued for investigation rather than for prosecution.
That important point is best illustrated by the evidence given by Michael Turner to the Joint Committee. Michael Turner set up a property business in Hungary in 2005. When it failed, as some business ventures do, he paid off his staff, filed for bankruptcy and returned to Britain. Three years later, he was extradited to a Hungarian jail, accused of defrauding on certain administration fees. He was detained in a prison that was formerly run by the KGB. He has now been allowed to return home, but he remains under investigation. At the time of the extradition, the Hungarian authorities assured the UK courts that they were ready to prosecute: that this was not a hit and hope; they were trial-ready. Yet six years after the alleged offence took place, Mr Turner has not been charged with any crime whatever. The extradition that threw his life into turmoil was little more than a hit and hope fishing expedition. Again, the Baker report remains oblivious, if not blind, to the basic injustice and the human toll that that kind of ordeal takes on those affected. I am talking about not just the victims but the families.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. During the course of his research, has he had the chance to look at the case of Babar Ahmad, who is a constituent of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), the shadow Justice Secretary? My right hon. Friend is in his place in this Chamber, but protocol restricts him from speaking in this debate. Babar Ahmad has been in detention for seven years. Can the hon. Gentleman qualify the validity of the fact that Babar Ahmad has not been able to be extradited, deported or tried in the UK, but languishes in a detention centre?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I want to be careful about what I say about the Babar Ahmad case. We must bear in mind the fact that, whatever the nature of the allegations—some of the individuals in the cases that I have mentioned are plainly and demonstrably innocent—we are dealing with that basic principle of British justice that a person is innocent until proven guilty. We are losing sight of that in this country. Irrespective of the nature of the allegations against Babar Ahmad, and I do not deny for one second that they are grave, the period of pre-trial detention is unacceptably high and should be looked at carefully within the scope of the UK-US treaty in relation to both the “most appropriate forum” safeguard and the other safeguards that might be available.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. I wonder whether it is helpful to intervene on behalf of the Backbench Business Committee. As there is such enormous interest in this debate and in the issue of Babar Ahmad, we are more than happy to take further representations from other Back-Bench Members for time in the Chamber to return to this subject in the event that all Members do not get the chance fully to explore the issue today.
The hon. Lady has partly addressed my point. Given the number of hon. Members present today, does the hon. Gentleman not share my concern that this is a matter that should be debated on the Floor of the House? We need to debate both this issue and the issue of Babar Ahmad, for which an e-petition of more than 140,000 signatures was collected.
Certainly, we need to have a debate in Chamber time and on a votable motion. I hope that we can deal with all the individual cases within the scope of the broader policy issue about the UK-US treaty and the European arrest warrant. If there is enough support from hon. Members across the House, I will return to the Backbench Business Committee to seek what we originally asked for.
If we had a vote today, we would carry it, but of course we cannot have one because we are not in the main Chamber. I agree with my hon. Friends who have already expressed the view that we ought to have this debate in the House. The Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Deputy Leader of the House all commented when they were in opposition that they supported what we are here today to do. Therefore, let us get this debate into the main Chamber and then we can carry the vote if they will deliver.
I am sure that is correct.
Going back to the Baker report and the issue of extradition under the European arrest warrant for the purposes of investigation rather than prosecution, the report effectively denies that EAWs are being used in cases where there is “insufficient evidence”. That is an astonishing conclusion; it is really remarkable. It is just one example of where the Baker review would have been assisted if it had interviewed the victims. It did not do that. However, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis), the Joint Committee on Human Rights did, and we gleaned as a result not just the legal technicalities and the operation but the human toll on those affected, particularly the innocent—but actually everyone. If we stand up for the principles of justice, we stand up for them across the board and the presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of British justice.
The Baker review should have heard the personal side of the trauma endured by Michael and his family. Instead, and this is really disappointing, Michael’s case merely gets a solitary mention in a footnote at the bottom of page 279. The review’s response to the broader issue of whether European arrest warrants are issued for investigations and not prosecutions is really to point out the blindingly obvious. It concludes that it should not happen under the terms of the framework decision, but that will be no comfort to the Turner family, because it does happen and it is happening and it will happen again unless we put a check in place.
Either we can and should amend the Extradition Act 2003 to make it explicit that extradition for investigation is barred or we need to pursue amendment of the framework decision itself. Given that we do so on other grounds, that would be a sensible course to take.
On other occasions, the EAW system has proved truly Kafkaesque for its victims. The case of Deborah Dark, a grandmother of two, best illustrates that. She gave evidence to our Committee. She was acquitted of drug offences in France more than 20 years ago. Without telling her, the French prosecutors appealed and a two-year jail sentence was imposed in her absence. Seventeen years later, on holiday in Turkey, she was stunned to be arrested at gunpoint. After a three-year legal ordeal, French investigators finally dropped the case. Traumatised, Mrs Dark told the Joint Committee:
“I had been walking around for over 20 years as a wanted person and I did not know.”
That major flaw would be remedied by the specific recommendations put forward by the Joint Committee, which considered all such cases and looked at the impact on the victims as well as taking advice on both law and policy from a range of non-governmental organisations.
There are many other victims, such as Edmond Arapi, and many other controversial cases, such as that of Babar Ahmad.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate and on raising the case of my constituent, Edmond Arapi. Mr Arapi was convicted in his absence of a murder that took place in Italy while he had evidence that he was actually 1,000 miles away in Staffordshire Moorlands. He has since been fully cleared and is currently pressing for compensation. Does my hon. Friend agree that wherever there is a miscarriage of justice, compensation should be paid? It should be paid to compensate the Arapi family for their financial loss and the emotional trauma that they went through.
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Compensation should be paid by the country that has made the mistake. The Arapi case shows that a proportionality test, while important, is not the whole game. A charge of murder is very serious; it is not a frivolous allegation. In that case, the facts were completely out of kilter with reality. A prima facie test and some of the other safeguards would enable a basic check to be made before the extradition takes place or the process is completed.
I want to leave time for other MPs to make speeches on specific cases or on the wider policy issues at stake. I have just one final point about the European arrest warrant. It is the most important point and it has been raised by other Members. The EAW blindly assumes mutual trust in the justice systems of many countries deemed substandard if not rotten by the likes of Transparency International and others, but because it does so, innocent British citizens are also denied the full protection of the Human Rights Act and the European convention. For example, it is far harder for an innocent British national to cite disruption of family life, under article 8, as grounds for resisting extradition than it is for a foreign criminal to block deportation on the same grounds. That is a dangerous legal and policy discrepancy that will damage public confidence in our justice system if it is not remedied. There are various flaws in the current arrangements. As I mentioned earlier, I intend to go back to the Backbench Business Committee to ask for a debate in the Chamber on a votable motion if there is sufficient support for it in our debate today.
I would be very grateful if the Minister could say what progress has been made in considering the conclusions of the Baker review and the recommendations of the JCHR, as well as the views of the numerous non-governmental organisations that have expressed an interest in this subject. In particular, can he give any indication of when the Government are likely to make concrete proposals of their own? In my view, the hit-and-hope counsel of the Baker review is just not good enough and I urge Ministers to be bolder than that. Protection of civil liberties ought to be the glue of this coalition; it ought to be an area of common ground. Indeed, it ought to unite all parties and I am hugely pleased to see so many Members from across the House, from all parties, including the smaller ones, in Westminster Hall today.
We need to implement the recommendations of the JCHR covering both the European arrest warrant and the UK-US treaty, because at the end of the day we can read the Baker review and judges and lawyers can all give their legal opinions, but as elected and accountable law-makers we in this House are charged with the duty of preserving British standards of justice and we have the ultimate responsibility for protecting our citizens.
Thank you, Mr Rosindell. I will certainly keep within those limits. I only want to make two points essentially, both relevant to the case of Babar Ahmad, which has already been raised, perhaps not surprisingly, in interventions on the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), who secured the debate. May I be the first to congratulate him on bringing a very important debate to this Chamber with the hope, which I think has been generally expressed today, that there will be a subsequent debate in the main Chamber in which more Members can take part?
I first became acquainted with the Babar Ahmad case five years ago. Members of his family were constituents in my former constituency of Acton. I was going to say former and subsequent constituency of Acton, but that would be to presume many things, including the actions of the Boundary Commission and the electorate. With the Leader of the House here—he is still very well thought of in that constituency, which is quite rare for a Conservative—I will not presume in any way on those lines.
The fact that my initial acquaintance with the Babar Ahmad case was five years ago speaks volumes in itself. Although I no longer represent that area, I still receive a great deal of correspondence about the case. Again, perhaps that is not surprising, given the fact that, as has already been indicated, more than 140,000 individuals have signed the e-petition specifically relating to the case.
I must pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), who represents the family of Babar Ahmad and who I know has worked tirelessly with them, including Babar Ahmad’s father and other family members who are present today, to ensure that the case remains at the front of everyone’s mind.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and I too pay tribute to Babar Ahmad’s constituency MP, our right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Justice.
My hon. Friend mentioned that there were 140,000 signatures, and it would be easy to assume that many of the people who supported the petition came from one particular community—the British Muslim community; but is he aware, as I am, that many people across this country who do not come from that background are equally chilled by the experience of Babar Ahmad, particularly as he has been held for seven years?
The hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), who secured this debate, quite rightly concluded his remarks by saying that the fact that Babar Ahmad has been in prison for so long was damaging to the image and traditions of British justice; that is absolutely true. I think that the media have missed the point; perceptions, particularly in the Muslim community across the whole country, are that Babar Ahmad has been so badly treated because of his faith and religion, suffering terrible abuse as a result. I have had a large number of contacts and e-mails from people who attend local mosques, as well as from people who attend churches and other organisations, and who are deeply concerned that somebody should languish for eight years in prison on a case that cannot be brought to court in this country, all because of the very strange arrangement that we have with the United States. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we do not mend the arrangement, this will be the image of British justice, not what we want it to be?
As so often, I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said, and I will discuss the length of incarceration in a moment. However, I think that my hon. Friend was also perhaps alluding to the circumstances of the treatment of Babar Ahmad: he was first arrested in 2003, and by the time he reached the police station he had sustained at least 73 forensically recorded injuries, including bleeding in his ears and urine. Six days later, he was released without charge. As we know, he was subsequently paid £60,000 compensation by the Metropolitan police for the assaults, although there was no apology and, I think, no admission. That would be shocking enough in itself, but of course in August 2004 Babar Ahmad was rearrested and he has remained in custody ever since.
I am addressing my comments effectively to the text of the petition, not to the offences alleged against Babar Ahmad but to the case that is being put by his family and the 140,000 people who have signed the petition, which I shall read as it is fairly short:
“Babar Ahmad is a British Citizen who has been detained in the UK for 7 years without trial fighting extradition to the USA under the controversial no-evidence-required Extradition Act 2003. In June 2011, the Houses of Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights urged the UK government to change the law so that Babar Ahmad’s perpetual threat of extradition is ended without further delay. Since all of the allegations against Babar Ahmad are said to have taken place in the UK, we call upon the British Government to put him on trial in the UK and support British Justice for British Citizens.”
That is the petition that has attracted 140,000 signatures.
The word Kafkaesque is somewhat overused in the media and in Parliament too, but it probably does apply to this case, where somebody has been arrested and held in high-security prisons for seven years without—clearly—any charge and without, as far as we are aware, any intention by the British authorities to charge. Therefore, the petition asks that the British prosecuting authorities take the lead and make a decision to go ahead and charge him here, if there is sufficient evidence to do so.
The excellent report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights that was published in June deals with many of these issues; a key one is forum. We know that there is provision on the statute book that would allow a forum test to be introduced. The introduction of such a test would immediately deal with cases such as that of Babar Ahmad and resolve the issue. Again, I strongly believe that the House should have an opportunity to make a decision on that matter if the Government are not prepared to make that decision.
Babar Ahmad’s situation is intolerable. It has been described by one of the judges who considered the case as an “ordeal”. As I have already said, I am making no comment at all, and indeed the petition makes no comment at all, about the strength of the evidence about the nature of the offences, because that evidence has not been made publicly available. I am making a comment that somebody—a British citizen—has spent seven years in high-security prisons without any charge being brought against them. That fact alone should shock all Members who are present in Westminster Hall today.
My hon. Friend has stressed the fact that Babar Ahmad has been in prison for seven years. I do not think that everybody who is concerned about his case recognises that that is the equivalent of the time served by someone sentenced to 14 years in prison. According to the sentencing guidelines, that is the kind of sentence issued to someone who is found guilty of grievous bodily harm, or carrying a weapon that they had previously brought to the scene, and so on. Normally, it would be very serious offences that would acquire such a long time in jail.
I entirely agree and that is why I say, notwithstanding the points that have been made about the need to address the substantive issue as well as individual cases, that Babar Ahmad’s case is unusual for that particular reason. Although I have a great deal of respect and sympathy for other hon. Members who have spoken on behalf of their constituents, or about other issues that have been raised with them, I do not believe that there is any case that is as extreme as Babar Ahmad’s, because of the simple fact that somebody has lost their liberty for that time, which—whatever the outcome—will never be regained.
I conclude on the point that there seems to be general agreement. The number of Members present shows that this debate is worth while, and that it needs to go further if the Government are not prepared to act. I am afraid that there has been some shuffling of responsibility between the Backbench Business Committee and the Government, particularly in relation to the Babar Ahmad petition, which, with 140,000 signatures is, I think, one of the top three. We have had debates on the Floor of the House on important issues that have arisen from petitions with fewer signatures, so there is a clear case for Babar Ahmad’s detention to be debated there too. We can then see both from Members’ contributions and in a vote whether they feel the same antipathy as me, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting and others about how the case is proceeding—or rather not proceeding. As things stand, more years could pass without resolution of the case, and we, as people who are here to protect the constitution of this country, should all be deeply ashamed of that. If nobody, including the Backbench Business Committee and the Leader of the House, is able or prepared to deal with the matter, Members collectively should insist that it is debated and voted upon on the Floor of the House.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on securing the debate, which is a wonderful opportunity to put our cases. I am here to represent my constituent, Michael Turner, who lives in Corfe Castle in south Dorset, who has for too long been the victim of an outrageous injustice in the form of the European arrest warrant. Let us be clear from the outset that that legislation, flawed though it is, was meant, as I understood it, to deal with terrorism and serious crime.
Michael’s story begins in 2002 when he and a friend set up a marketing company operating out of Budapest. Regrettably, it folded in 2004. The Hungarian authorities allege that the two men acted fraudulently, leaving customers out of pocket to the tune of £18,000—not a huge sum. The two men denied the charge of fraud, and still do. In November 2008, after Hungary had joined the EU and Britain had signed up to the European extradition treaty, the authorities came for Michael.
Here in the UK, Michael fought extradition until 2009, when Mr Justice Collins overruled his appeal in the High Court and ordered the two men to hand themselves over to the Hungarian authorities. Michael’s barrister, Hugh O’Donoghue, was “outraged” at the decision, believing that the European arrest warrant was incorrectly interpreted and used. On Monday 2 November 2009, Michael and his partner went to Gatwick airport voluntarily, and were handed over to Hungarian special forces, who wanted to wear balaclavas to avoid being identified. The two men were assured that they would be allowed to call home as soon as they arrived, but no such call was forthcoming. They were refused bail on the ground that they would abscond—this when they had gone to Hungary voluntarily—and they were locked up, incommunicado, at a police station for three days before being moved to Veniga prison.
Michael’s family had to find a Hungarian lawyer to locate him. Even the Foreign Office did not know where he was, stating, in an e-mail to me, dated 4 November 2009, two days after Michael had been sent to Hungary:
“We were not initially aware of the case as the Hungarian authorities had not been in contact to notify us of Michael Turner’s detention.”
A judicial mess of scandalous proportions had begun, but far worse was to follow.
Locked up in this former KGB jail on the outskirts of Budapest, Michael was separated from his partner and friend, and placed in a small cell with three other prisoners for 23 hours a day. Here he remained for the next four months, without charge. That in itself is surely a breach of human rights—and how often do we hear that expression? His initial request to call the consulate was refused. The authorities had to be reminded that a call to the consulate was a right, not a privilege. He was allowed a one-hour visit per month and one shower per week—he had to basin-wash in his cell for the other six days. Having reading material, and receiving and sending letters, was made difficult for him, and he was continually shouted at in a language he did not understand.
The appalling conditions soon began to wear him down, as I am sure we can all imagine. Soon, and inevitably, it was being suggested that if Michael pleaded guilty his stay in prison would be shortened, but he rightly and bravely stayed silent. Anyway, why should he plead guilty when he thinks, and is sure, that he is innocent?
Behind the scenes, many people were trying their best to help Michael, and I must pay tribute to the Earl of Dartmouth, a UK Independence party MEP, who visited the prison, and Fair Trials International, which is doing what it can to help. It seems extraordinary to me—and I am sure to all hon. Members present and to millions of people in this country—that when so many illegal immigrants cannot be extradited to their countries because of their so-called human rights, it appears that a British citizen can be handed over almost on a whim.
None of us is sure why Michael’s four-month incarceration in that hellhole ended as abruptly as it did, but on the morning of 26 February 2010 the prison door opened and Michael was free, with no explanation or apology, and still no charge. In April 2010, he returned voluntarily and very courageously to Hungary to answer more questions. He was told that the police had interviewed more than 500 witnesses and that they needed more time for further investigations and interviews. It is thought that if the case does get to court, it will take about a year to cross-examine all the witnesses.
Michael returned to the UK and there was still no charge. This appalling case hangs over him like the sword of Damocles. The emotional, physical and financial cost is hard to gauge; the distress has been appalling. Unable to move on with his young life, Michael waits for Hungarian justice to take its course—a course that has seen my constituent subjected to imprisonment, psychological torture, huge expense, unrelenting stress and an understandable loss of faith in this country’s ability to look after her own. Hungary’s judicial system is not on a par with ours. It is primitive, bureaucratic and clearly unjust. In this country, as my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton said, someone is innocent until proven guilty, but it would seem that that is not the case in Hungary.
Finally, I support my hon. Friend’s call for the Government to strengthen the protection of our citizens who are subject to extradition requests by implementing the recommendations of the report published in June by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I am delighted to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) that the Backbench Business Committee will be pushing hard to get the issue into the main Chamber, so that we can continue to debate this crucial and essential point.
Thank you very much, Mr Rosindell, for allowing me to sneak in at the last minute. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on securing the debate. He mentioned the well-known case of Gary McKinnon, and I want briefly to add my support to his cause.
That case, and some of the figures we have heard in the debate, show that we exist in an imbalanced relationship with the United States. That is reinforced by the fact that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister were so reassuring on this case while in opposition, but now seem to feel at least that they do not have the power or the authority to follow through with some of those reassurances. That has to be addressed.
I am here to speak about a case that has already been mentioned briefly—that of a constituent of mine, Deborah Dark. She was arrested in 1988 in France, on suspicion of drug-related offences, and held in custody for eight and a half months. She was eventually found not guilty by a French court, and was released and returned to the UK, where she tried to get over the fact that she had wasted eight and a half months in jail.
Nearly 20 years later, in 2007, Deborah travelled to Turkey for a holiday, but instead of being able to enjoy it, as she would have expected, she found herself stripped at gunpoint at the airport by Turkish police. According to the police—whose behaviour, incidentally, was unspeakably disgusting and life-changingly appalling—they were acting merely on a tip-off from Interpol. That was the only explanation she was given; they did not elaborate in any way.
As we would expect, Deborah wanted an immediate explanation when she arrived in the UK. She called the police and was told there was no outstanding arrest warrant; they shrugged their shoulders. She asked the Serious Organised Crime Agency and was told it had no records on her either. Helpfully, it added that her arrest might have been a mistake.
Time passed and, with extraordinary calm, Deborah accepted that explanation. Then, in 2008, she travelled to Spain to visit her father, who had retired there and who was unwell. She tried to return to the UK after her holiday, which lasted a few weeks, but she was arrested at the airport. She was taken into custody by the Spanish authorities and told that she faced extradition to France.
That is when the penny began to drop. Seventeen years before, the French prosecutor had appealed the verdict clearing Deborah. That happened without her knowledge. She had been found guilty, without anyone bothering to tell her. In her absence, she was sentenced to six years. I repeat that she was never summoned to appear in court, never asked to defend herself and never given an opportunity to do so. She was never told that her acquittal had been overturned; these things happened entirely without her knowledge.
That was in 1989. More than a decade later, the French authorities issued their European arrest warrant, meaning that EU member states were compelled to arrest Deborah and send her to France to serve the sentence. As it happens, she refused to consent to the extradition and was granted an extradition hearing. Fortunately, the Spanish court chose not to extradite her, on the basis that so much time had passed and she was unlikely to get a thorough, proper or fair trial. After one month in custody, she was released from prison, and she returned home. However, it was not over.
When Deborah arrived in the UK, she was arrested by the British police at Gatwick airport. Again, she refused to consent to extradition, and she was released on bail, pending another hearing. In 2008, extradition was again refused, for the same reason—the passage of time.
Despite being cleared by two courts, however, Deborah remained subject to the European arrest warrant in other EU states until 2010, when the French finally withdrew it. Until that moment, she was, in effect, trapped in the UK and unable to visit her family in Spain for more than three years, all because of a conviction that she was never allowed to contest.
I have chosen to speak about Deborah not only because her case is horrific and she is my constituent, but because there are hundreds of examples of the European arrest warrant failing. Julian Assange, the boss and founder of WikiLeaks, is a well-known figure. He faces extradition to Sweden, despite the fact that he has not been charged anywhere or for anything, and despite the fact that the extradition is being demanded by a private prosecutor, described as a partisan prosecutor—in other words, they are not a member of the national judiciary or a formal representative of the state.
The system clearly needs changing, and it needs changing soon, because the number of such cases is rising. One thousand people were subjected to the European arrest warrant last year, and the figure grows every month. A remedy suggested by Fair Trials International would involve applying the principle of mutual recognition to the European arrest warrant. That would mean that once one member state had refused to execute a European arrest warrant, as happened with Deborah, it would automatically be withdrawn, along with any alerts on EU and international police databases. That remedy would have prevented Deborah from being subjected to her grim groundhog-day experience.
One alternative that has been proposed—including, I believe, by Fair Trials International—is that we raise the bar to capture only the most serious cases, and I certainly go along with that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton said, that is what this tool was originally designed for. I am sure there are alternatives, but I am no expert, and it is for the Government to identify the most appropriate steps. What is certain, however, is that the system needs radical and rapid reform to prevent such appalling abuses from happening again.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on securing the debate. I also congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on allowing it. I hope there will be a more detailed debate on the Floor of the House.
I want to talk about the UK-USA extradition treaty and the European arrest warrant not because I have constituents who have been affected by them, but because—I suppose I have to declare an interest here—I am a lawyer who has dealt with criminal cases and who has an interest in human rights generally.
Like other hon. Members, I accept that we need extradition proceedings and a European arrest warrant. What we are concerned about, however, is how those provisions are used in practice. I want to talk, first, about the UK-USA extradition treaty, which was signed under the previous Government. Secondly, I want to talk about the practical ways in which European arrest warrants can be improved to ensure that they are issued in proper circumstances, are based on evidence and include safeguards. Thirdly, I want to touch on the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which has looked at the issue in depth. I urge the Government to accept those recommendations.
I am surprised that action on these matters has been delayed. When Ministers and other Government Members were in opposition, and these issues were discussed, they objected vigorously to them. In fact, the Deputy Prime Minister described the USA-UK extradition treaty as “lop-sided”. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) said, many eminent members of the Government were critical of the provisions and opposed them. I am surprised that changes have not been made, given that the Government have been in power for 18 months.
Sir Scott Baker is not correct when he states that the treaty has not operated unfairly. A key difficulty is that UK nationals cannot test the veracity of the evidence being used to seek their extradition. However, a US citizen facing extradition to the UK can challenge and test the evidence produced to extradite them. That is one reason why so few US citizens have been extradited to this country. They are therefore able effectively to challenge the evidence presented to them, when we are not.
Another argument, which Sir Scott Baker also uses, is that the treaty is not unfair to UK citizens, but why was there a need to negotiate a separate treaty with specific provisions with the USA? We have treaties with other countries that do not have such provisions, and those treaties require a greater burden of proof before people are extradited to those countries.
In my previous life as a prosecutor, I would toddle off to Bow Street magistrates court—it has now closed—to try to get extradition warrants. The documents I presented included information about the exact nature of the charges; the indictment had to state specifically what the offences were for which the person was being extradited. The documents also had to include the evidence being used to back the application. Furthermore, a senior member of the Crown Prosecution Service had to certify that that was proper evidence and that there was a proper case for extradition.
Finally, as soon as the person was extradited to the UK, committal proceedings had to commence immediately, and all the paperwork and evidence had to be served on the person. That ensured that somebody who was extradited to the UK was tried expeditiously. None of those guarantees is being given to UK citizens. Why are British nationals being given less favour than US citizens? It is completely wrong that the Government are still set on this course and have not changed the provisions.
On the European arrest warrant, I do not have an objection to the fact that it exists; my concern is how it is used in practice. When somebody has been extradited to another country, it often takes time to see whether the warrant has been applied wrongly, as in the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). In that case, the warrant was wrongly issued in France; the authorities had not realised that the person against whom it had been issued was unaware of the fact that there had been an appeal against their acquittal and that they had been convicted. Such negligence and such errors will occur, so I ask the Government to reconsider negotiating the basis on which European arrest warrants are issued.
The state should issue much stricter rules and guidelines to courts and judges on when to issue arrest warrants. For example, the evidence should be available, the person should be dealt with and looked after properly, and there should be procedural safeguards. Those are the things that are required—as well as that the offences on which people are extradited must be serious, not minor. Also, it should be possible to withdraw arrest warrants. I understand that in Poland once a warrant has been issued it is impossible to withdraw it.
I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, but is not the real problem the completely different standards of the legal systems across the European Union, and, indeed, the Council of Europe area, which, together with the virtual automaticity of the European arrest warrant, mean that we just mask the inadequacies of the current system and many people suffer miscarriages of justice?
I agree, and that issue highlights the importance of how arrest warrants are implemented. Procedural safeguards must be put in place. There must be stringent requirements. Warrants must not be handed out as a matter of course, so that someone can come to court and say, “I want an arrest warrant,” without anyone looking properly into what has occurred. In our country, when police officers go to court to ask for arrest warrants, the magistrates, or the judge, look at what is presented to them and then they might agree to those things. In a nation state such as England, someone who is arrested in Watford, for example, knows that their case can be resolved quite quickly if there are procedural irregularities. Errors can be sorted out quickly. However, in a foreign country—with a foreign language, jurisdiction and everything else—it is not as easy to sort out mistakes. It may take months. That is why it is so important that warrants should be issued properly in the first place, using strict procedures.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights has presented some good, practical solutions that will help British nationals. It has suggested the forum provision, which would allow British judges to decide whether an individual case should be tried in this country, or whether there is a need for extradition. The cases of Babar Ahmad and Gary McKinnon and others have been mentioned, and one interesting thing about all those people is that their alleged offences are deemed to have occurred in this country. What is wrong, therefore, with our prosecuting them? Why cannot our prosecuting authorities do it? If there is evidence, they should be prosecuted. No one says that the people concerned should not be prosecuted. We all believe that if there is evidence against someone there should be a prosecution.
From what I have been reading about the case of Babar Ahmad—he is not my constituent, and I recognise the hard work done on his behalf by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan)—what he did is supposed to have occurred in this country, and he has effectively spent nine years in prison. As my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said, that is comparable to a 14-year prison sentence, whereas if what is alleged against him had been proved, it might have carried only five or six years maximum. He has thus effectively served a sentence.
The important thing in that case, and in those of Gary McKinnon and others, is that the evidence apparently being used against them was found by the British authorities. That is especially true in Babar Ahmad’s case: when he was arrested there were supposed to be allegations, information or evidence against him, which form the basis of the extradition case. If that evidence is so cogent and good, there is nothing to stop the British authorities prosecuting Babar Ahmad in England. If that is not happening, there is a reason for it, which is presumably the fact that there is insufficient evidence against him. I worked in a prosecuting authority for about 10 years, and if there was evidence we would prosecute. If there was not, we did not. In my opinion, that explains what is now happening.
I understand the sensitivities of the USA because of the problems that it has had, but those sensitivities should not mean that the liberties and rights of British nationals should be put aside for the interests of another foreign state that will not give reciprocal rights. The USA may have its own political agenda, and its own agenda as to why it wants Mr Ahmad. If the extradition goes through, Babar Ahmad will probably spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement or in high-security prisons in the USA, so his life will be destroyed. I therefore urge the Government to rethink the issue of the forum provision and allowing our judges to decide whether cases should be tried here. In cases where there is evidence against someone, our prosecuting authorities should be the ones to try them.
What has today’s debate in Westminster Hall—on a matter worthy, as other hon. Members have said, of debate in the main Chamber—to offer? There has been a review by eminent lawyers and judges, who after consideration have given their weighty views on extradition. One outcome of the review—unintended, I hope—has been, certainly according to commentators, to pit judges against politicians, in what is almost a parody of self-serving, lobbied politicians and venerated, balanced judges with their measured approach. On that basis, there is no contest, and the Government should simply follow the recommendations in the weighty report.
It seems to me that, on a cross-party basis, we all say no to that. The Attorney-General has made it clear that the report is offering guidance, and that is all. It is for Government and, as we will say loud and clear today, for Parliament, to set the clear parameters of extradition. We should not lightly discount the strong views of Parliament. The June report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights has been mentioned, and it should be given due consideration, as should previous parliamentary votes on forum and the many previous debates.
The problem with the review is that it seems to betray a lack of appreciation of the shared responsibility that we have for extradition. It is an issue for politicians, Government and Parliament, not so much through party politics—the parties are properly reflected across the debate today—or through the activity of the lowest form of lobby-fodder, whether domestically or internationally on the sidelines of summits: the issue involves politics because extradition is the shared responsibility of accountable, elected politicians, who safeguard, together with the judiciary, the rights of UK citizens, in relation to liberty and security. The fact that extradition involves the surrender of the liberty of an individual, and giving up that citizen to the full force of the law of another country, must involve politicians as a matter of principle.
The review relies heavily on the argument about the risk of costs, complications and delays. We need to rise to meet the challenge by ensuring that we have an efficient but fair and just extradition system, with the appropriate safeguards. Not to do so is to abdicate our responsibilities. Indeed, it is that abdication, because of inadequate legislation under the previous Government, on which prosecutions, courts and politicians followed through, that has led to an unfair and inefficient extradition system. It was a profound cause of the nightmare of my constituent Gary McKinnon. I commend the Home Secretary, however, for being the first Home Secretary to take responsibility, remove the matter from the courts’ hands, and review the medical evidence.
I pay tribute to Gary McKinnon’s mother, Janice Sharp, who this week, quite properly, was awarded the Liberty “Close to Home” award for her passionate and sustained campaign for her son, and her campaign to reform extradition for the sake of other UK citizens. The Baker review made reference to Gary McKinnon’s case, but I believe it was misrepresented. The reality of the situation that he faces was not reflected in the somewhat dismissive, even cynical, comments about him. He has in effect been on bail for 10 years. That must be one of the most unwanted records for any British citizen in this country. Normally, we would only find such a situation under a despotic regime like Burma’s, not in Britain, the home of the rule of law.
We must recognise that Gary McKinnon’s life has a reality not reflected in weighty tomes. He lives in a largely hidden world, in a permanent state of fear. It is fear not of justice—he has always been open and willing to face justice in this country, including prosecution and, if appropriate, sentencing—but of extradition. His Asperger’s syndrome and mental illness put him in a 24-hour nightmare of anxiety, depression and suicide risk. As I said to the Prime Minister in a question earlier this year, his life is hanging on a thread. I did not exaggerate his case then, and I do not now. Gary McKinnon will not be extradited to the States because, as I am reliably informed, if a final decision were made to extradite him, he would take his life. Hon. Members need not take my word for it; they can take the word of his doctors.
The medical evidence was not considered by the Baker review. Obviously, it was not within the review’s primary remit, but the review has misrepresented Gary McKinnon’s position. I must make it clear that the review has no direct relevance to his future; that is being considered by the Home Secretary, on the basis of the medical evidence before her, to establish whether his human rights are being breached. However, without sight of that compelling medical evidence, which I have seen, and an appreciation of the evident breach of Gary McKinnon’s human rights, it is not possible for the review to represent his case fairly. If the Baker review had considered the medical evidence, I would defy it not to see Gary McKinnon’s case as an example of how woefully we have let down British citizens time and again, as we have heard today.
Gary McKinnon’s case is an example of the problem with extradition law, and it continues to highlight what the Baker review missed. Lessons to be learned from his case include, first, the need for proper judicial oversight to avoid undue political influence. We saw through Wikileaks how previous Prime Ministers effectively used Gary McKinnon as a political pawn in meetings with the United States. A forum bar would give courts the proper opportunity to make a judgment about the interests of justice, consider proportionality and medical evidence and make the right decision.
Secondly, prosecution authorities in dual criminality cases need to be able properly to consider whether enough transparent information has been passed between jurisdictions to account for the fullness of criminality, in order to determine the best venue for prosecutions. Thirdly, we need an Executive safeguard with appropriate judicial involvement and a shared responsibility to have better clarity and focus, in order to allow the Home Secretary to recognise her responsibility in terms of extradition—that might be in terms of human rights, or it might have to do with intelligence that comes to light in this or other countries—and make the right decision. That is necessary so that we can respect the rule of law, as I am sure Members across the House want to do, and the idea of an accountable Executive and Parliament.
We must also not ignore the treaty. British citizens in this country were sold down the river by the negotiations. Why have the Netherlands and Israel, for example, been able to negotiate agreements with the United States that any of their citizens extradited to the US and convicted there will be repatriated and sentenced in their home country? We do not have such an agreement. We must rely on assurances, promises and hope.
This is an issue of responsibility that includes a question of trust. Strong words have been said over a number of years on behalf of my constituent, including by Ministers before the election. The Prime Minister said:
“Gary McKinnon is a vulnerable young man and I see no compassion in sending him thousands of miles away from his home and loved ones to face trial. If he has questions to answer, there is a clear argument to be made that he should answer them in a British court. This case raises serious questions about the workings of the Extradition Act, which should be reviewed.”
That was relevant in 2009, and it is relevant in 2011.
The Minister present, after I raised my urgent question during the previous Parliament, said
“is it not a breach of his human rights to send a man with Asperger’s and depression to face a possible 60-year sentence?...It is, of course, horribly ironic that it would be illegal to send someone to another country to face an explicit death sentence.”—[Official Report, 1 December 2009; Vol. 501, c. 978.]
Let Gary McKinnon be a living and last reminder of how we have reformed extradition, not a dead reminder of how we have failed British citizens.
It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak in this debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on securing it. Like others, I believe that this debate should be held in the main Chamber. We are discussing fundamental constitutional rights. There is only one forum where those rights should be discussed, and that is the Floor of the House of Commons. The Leader of the House was with us a little while ago, and I have no doubt that he heard what many Members said, but I shall make a point of going to see him after this debate to reinforce the view that the Chamber is the place for such issues.
I first took an interest in these matters in July 2006, when at Prime Minister’s questions in two consecutive weeks, I sought to interrogate Tony Blair. I said then what I say now: the extradition treaty with the United States puts United Kingdom citizens in a position of disadvantage compared with their US counterparts. It is implied that the United States embraced the treaty, but that is not true. The Senate waited until autumn 2006 before ratifying it. The purported reason was that the strength of the Irish lobby in the United States was such that senators were concerned that the treaty, if ratified, might cause alleged terrorists from Ireland in the United States to be extradited to the United Kingdom. The treaty did not have an immaculate conception.
The treaty is wrong in principle. Extradition is based on the principle of reciprocity. For a state to give up one of its citizens to another jurisdiction can be justified only by the confident knowledge that citizens of both states have equal rights. I know that, here in the United Kingdom, the representatives of the United States have some reservations about what I and others are saying today. They need have no anxieties. I wish not for a levelling down but a levelling up. I seek equivalence, not exceptionalism.
I have sought to test the integrity of my position by asking myself what a United States member of Congress would do if the positions were reversed. We all know that such is the strength of feeling on Capitol hill about such issues that, if United Kingdom citizens were in a better constitutional position than Americans, there is no member of Congress who would not seek, as we do, to protect their own citizens. One thinks, for example, of Robert Byrd, the longest serving senator in the history of the United States and a constitutional expert to his fingertips. Faced with the situation that we face, I have absolutely no doubt how vehement and articulate his opposition would be.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is precisely because of the traditions of jurisprudence and respect for habeas corpus in both the United Kingdom and the United States that it is extremely important that we work together to level up the rules on extradition, as he says, so that we can send a message to other countries that are trying to achieve the same level of justice to which we have aspired and that we are achieving?
I agree entirely. I can say this as a Scots lawyer, because we have a civil law rather than a common law system: one important export, even as long ago as our colonisation of the United States, was the common law. Habeas corpus is a fundamental principle of the law in the United States. Not only in federal law but in the laws of each state, habeas corpus occupies exactly the same important position, as my hon. Friend suggests.
I fancy that there is not much patience in the Chamber for an analytical exercise in the interpretation of the Baker report, but in order to provide some further reading to Members who have not yet had the opportunity to do so, I refer them to part 7, pages 231 to 243, paragraphs 728, 729, 735, 739 and 742, the burden of which is that the Baker report concluded that there was no significant difference between “reasonable suspicion,” which is the standard applicable in the United Kingdom under the treaty, and “probable cause,” which is the standard necessary in the United States and which is enshrined in the fourth amendment to the United States constitution.
I have the misfortune to disagree with the conclusions of the Baker report. I believe that probable cause is a requirement that has to be met before any United Kingdom citizen should be extradited to the United States. Why do I believe that? Because before surrendering a British citizen to a foreign jurisdiction, the state—our state—should reasonably require to ensure that there is a case requiring to be answered, not a suspicion. To borrow an illustration from my own experience as a prosecutor and from domestic law on both sides of the border, suspicion justifies arrest, but suspicion does not justify charge or prosecution. Probable cause, in my view, is necessary before prosecution can be justified.
I think that my argument is underpinned by the conclusions of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, to which reference has already been made. It concluded, rather as I have suggested, that it is necessary that the standard of proof on both sides of the Atlantic should be the same. Those arguments are properly set out on page 4 of the report. That the issue might require adjustment of the treaty was recognised by the Committee, whose Chair, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis), is present, and by Baroness Neville-Jones, who gave evidence on behalf of the Government and who appeared to be optimistic that adjustment could be achieved.
I am persuaded by one other element of the consideration of these matters. There is a considerable predisposition on the part of the courts of the United States to invoke extraterritorial jurisdiction to an extent that we simply do not apply in this country. We have, therefore, in practice, no reciprocity in the application of extraterritorial jurisdiction. It is my view, however, that if the significant difference in the approach in the United States is, as we know, common, that is all the more reason that the standards of proof should be equivalent.
Let me deal quickly with three further issues. First, on the matter of forum, it is surely correct in principle that there should be an effective statutory presumption that a case be tried in the country where the crime is committed, and that only in the most special circumstances should there be a departure from that principle. Secondly, on legal representation—this is also recognised by the JCHR—someone who is being sought to be extradited needs good representation not just in this country, but in the country to which they are extradited. We know that the availability of public funds, or indeed of public defenders, is to different standards in different states of the United States.
Finally, on the application of the Human Rights Act 1998, which is, of course, a statutory requirement for the Home Secretary, I do not believe that there is any justification for the Baker committee’s recommendation that the Home Secretary’s authority on that should be transferred to the legal system. Baker says that there should be a removal because of delay being caused if it is invoked and because determination of extradition should be exclusively a judicial process. That, I think, fails to understand the nature of extradition, notwithstanding the detailed historical analysis that the Baker report contains. Extradition is diplomatic in the first instance. It becomes judicial and ultimately it is political.
In exercising that power, the Home Secretary is not acting ultra vires; she is exercising the power conferred on her by Parliament—the same sovereign Parliament that resolved that other parts of the procedure should be exercised by the courts. I see nothing wrong in principle with the Home Secretary exercising a power conferred on her by Parliament additional to the powers of the court. Parliament has chosen not to grant exclusive jurisdiction in matters of extradition to the courts, as Parliament is entitled to do. The truth is that the Home Secretary is exercising an administrative function in furtherance of the duties incumbent on her by the Human Rights Act.
It has been suggested that it would perhaps be helpful if the considerations that the Home Secretary is obliged to take into account were more fully described in legislation, such as the health of the person being considered for extradition, which is relevant to the speech we heard a moment ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), the impact on family life, the quality of treatment that a person might receive in the penal system, and, of course, the proportionality of the likely sentence that might be imposed.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way and my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) for securing this debate. We have talked a lot about extradition treaties between the USA and the UK, and the European arrest warrant. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is a case for looking at extradition treaties with countries in category 2 territories, such as South Africa, where my constituent, Shrien Dewani, may face trial, and at considerations such as the health of the person and whether they will face a fair trial, given, in the case of my constituent, the high media coverage that his case has received in the country to which he may be extradited?
My hon. Friend underlines the need for the Home Secretary to have the jurisdiction and the discretion that the law presently allows. It is a powerful argument in support of the view that that discretion should remain.
I have not sought to deal with any particular case or set of circumstances, but my interest in this matter was first aroused by the case of the NatWest three, one of whom, Mr Gary Mulgrew, was a constituent of mine. I think that one has to be careful about changing the law in response to particular cases—there is an old legal dictum that hard cases make hard law—but today this is an opportunity to define principle, and I for one am delighted that so many Members have chosen to be present for that purpose. I look forward to the occasion when we have a resolution on the Floor of the House to which we can give effect.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell). We both appeared before the Backbench Business Committee in support of the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), with the full support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who is the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. I congratulate the hon. Member for Esher and Walton on securing this important debate on extradition. I speak as Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and am very pleased to fully support the hon. Gentleman. He is a member of my Committee, and I am delighted that he has strongly supported its unanimous and wise recommendations.
It is almost a year since the Committee announced our inquiry into extradition. The Baker review began a couple of months before our inquiry. My Committee’s intention was not so much directly to influence that separate process, but to set out for Parliament the human rights implications of current extradition policy, so that a more informed discussion could take place when the findings of the Baker review emerged. That has now happened and this debate is, I hope, just one part of that informed discussion. As many hon. Members have said, we hope that discussion will continue and take place somewhere more appropriate. I will say something about that in a moment.
It is disappointing that this debate is taking place in Westminster Hall. It seems to suggest that human rights issues are, somehow or other, not mainstream or important but peripheral, or that extradition is a small matter affecting very few people, most of whom appear to be deserving of whatever treatment they suffer in the countries to which they are extradited. That is not the case. We all know the cases that have attracted, quite rightly, a great deal of public attention: Gary McKinnon in terms of the UK-US extradition treaty, and Julian Assange in terms of the European arrest warrant. I should place on record my gratitude, as Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, for the way in which so many hon. Members today have spoken up in support of their own constituents.
There are many less well-known cases that deserve attention. There are cases that include flagrant injustice, unfair treatment and even mistaken identity, as we have already heard. My Committee was privileged to hear the moving evidence given by many of the people involved, such as Andrew Symeou, Deborah Dark and Edmond Arapi. Nor are we dealing with only a handful of cases. In 2009-10, 699 UK citizens were surrendered to other European Union countries under the European arrest warrant alone.
I must emphasise that human rights are massively important. This is a human rights debate, and debates on human rights should attract the attention of as many hon. Members as possible, and should be a matter for the main Chamber. It is very gratifying, as a number of Members have already said, to see so many Members here today supporting human rights. Extradition engages a number of different human rights: article 3, prohibition of torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment; article 5, right to liberty and security; article 6, right to a fair trial; article 8, right to respect for private and family life; and article 14, prohibition of discrimination. We have heard many examples of what we would consider breaches of those human rights this afternoon.
Extradition agreements are vital, and this country has benefited from agreements that enable us to bring foreign citizens or absconders to justice here in the UK. Citizens of one state must not be immune from the laws of another. If you are accused of a crime, you must face justice, and it may be right to do so in the state where the crime was committed. However, does our shared common legal framework and belief in human rights mean that we can rely on the operation of justice equally across Europe or, indeed, across the world?
We cannot take comparable standards of justice for granted. Our inquiry showed that although the European arrest warrant has brought benefits in terms of a quicker, more streamlined system of justice in Europe, it does not have the right safeguards to guarantee human rights protection; nor does the US-UK bilateral extradition treaty, as we have already heard. It is an important feature of our system that some rights may be qualified, and that there is a just and proportionate balance between the interests of the state and the interests of the individual; for example, in freedom from discrimination, and the right to privacy and family life.
Some rights engaged by extradition are the most fundamental: liberty and security, and the right to a fair trial—both of which are only qualified in times of war or public emergency—and freedom from torture, or inhuman and degrading treatment. That is, of course, an absolute non-derogable right. Our Committee’s report highlighted areas where human rights are at risk, and set out the changes that would provide the robust protection needed. First, we said that Parliament should be asked to commence the “most appropriate forum” safeguard in the Police and Justice Act 2006. That would require the judge to consider whether it is in the interest of justice for the individual to be tried in the requesting country, and to refuse the extradition request if it is not. There should be a requirement to show a prima facie case, or a similarly robust evidential threshold, which would mean that a court could refuse extradition if it was not satisfied that a country had shown that there was a case to answer. A proportionality principle should be added to the EAW, to ensure that the human rights implications of extradition are not disproportionate to the alleged crime.
The Government should ensure that the human rights bar is effective in practice as well as in law. Although the bar requires the judge to consider whether extradition is compatible with the human rights of the individual concerned, the threshold set by case law here is very high indeed, allowing material such as reports of the UN Committee against Torture to be regarded as evidence of possible human rights abuses. That would strengthen protection.
Access to legal representation needs to be reviewed. Present provision is patchy and often woefully inadequate. We need to ensure that other EU member states do not use the EAW for purposes of investigation—or, as some hon. Members have already said, fishing expeditions—rather than trial. Finally, in relation to the notoriously asymmetrical UK-US extradition treaty, the Government should level the playing field. The proof required when extraditing a person to the US must be raised to the same standard as that required when extraditing from the US to the UK.
The Baker review has now reported. It might seem churlish to take issue with a review that seems to be so comprehensive, but many members of my Committee, and I am one of them, are disappointed to note that in many areas the review has not drawn the same conclusions as the Committee’s report. However, we are encouraged that the review supports my Committee’s conclusion about the need for better legal representation for those subject to extradition proceedings. Likewise, the review finds that any future amendment to the framework decision underpinning the EAW should include a proportionality test to be applied in the issuing state. That broadly echoes a recommendation from our report.
The Baker review also came to similar conclusions to my Committee on the issues of excessive pre-trial detention, maintaining current limits at the discretion of the Secretary of State, with sentences served in the UK for those whose custodial sentences are 12 months or less. That gives the Committee some hope that there might be areas where the Government can move more quickly when consensus suggests a clear and simple path. I do not intend to analyse or criticise the review on areas where its conclusions differ from those of my Committee. We may decide to revisit the whole area in the light of the review’s findings.
Unfortunately, the Baker review and my Committee’s report diverge on some of the most important aspects of extradition, such as forum, the requirement for a prima facie case, and the fairness of what seemed clearly to the Committee to be an unbalanced US-UK treaty. It is gratifying to hear so many hon. Members supporting my Committee’s position, rather than the Baker review.
On the point about the forum bar and the other test that the hon. Gentleman has described, one of the criticisms of that in the panel was that, in addition to adding extra cost, it would delay the process. Does his Committee have a view, where extradition is justified, about whether having those safeguards would in any way impede that process?
I am sure my Committee has a view. I am a bit anxious not to get involved in individual cases, but as I have already indicated, my Committee is strongly in support of the principle of extradition. What we are debating today are the flaws and weaknesses in the processes. The Government have a unique opportunity to address the issue, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the points that she has made.
I wish to probe the Government on their intentions, as do many hon. Members here today, and on the timeline for decisions to be made in this area. I have no doubt that the Government may well hurry a little more if we have the opportunity to debate the matter in the Chamber.
When the Baker review reported, my Committee agreed that I should write to the Home Secretary to seek information about when the Government would respond to the review and to my Committee’s report. This week, we received a reply that was broadly unhelpful: a response will be made “as soon as practicable”. Can the Minister give some sense of what that expression means?
The Attorney-General was asked about the review and its findings in the main Chamber last week. When he referred to them as “guidelines”, there was some speculation that he was implying that the Government were distancing themselves a little. That may or may not be the case, but can the Minister spell out whether, when the Government consider the review’s findings, they will also be considering not only my Committee’s report, which comes to different conclusions in some areas, but other important reports, which have been mentioned this afternoon, by such bodies as Justice and Fair Trials International?
It would be good to hear from the Minister that the Government consider the matter urgent, and as far as we are concerned, judging by the strength of unanimous feeling this afternoon, it is urgent. Some changes can be made quickly, even if others might take longer to decide upon and resolve. The rights of our citizens must be protected against the sorts of injustice that have traumatised so many people and their families, many of whom gave evidence to our inquiry.
[Mr Edward Leigh in the Chair]
Welcome to the Chair, Mr Leigh. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on securing an extraordinarily important debate and the Backbench Business Committee on doing such great work to ensure our chance to have this discussion. I want to keep my remarks brief, because so much has been said in the evolving consensus of the debate. In particular, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) for their powerful contributions.
There has long been a tradition that Parliament is the last backstop for the liberty of the subject and the protection of the rights of property. It is right for us to be deeply interested in the liberty of our electors and citizens, and it is particularly great to see in the Chamber the shadow Justice Secretary, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), who has remained in his seat throughout the debate and who has been such a powerful advocate for his constituent, Babar Ahmad. There seems to be a strong, cross-party feeling that things are simply not right.
To pick up on one issue, if people are in the UK and commit a crime in the UK, the deep, natural sense that we all—the person in the street—have is that such people should be prosecuted in the UK for that act, if it is an offence in this country, and not be taken away from home, loved ones, community and everything familiar to be prosecuted in a foreign country. In particular, I have long found the US-UK extradition treaty troubling.
May I issue a slight corrective? Everyone thus far has talked about British nationals being extradited. Quite often, a request under a European arrest warrant, or for that matter an extradition request, is for a non-British national. One reason for the number of European arrest warrants from Poland being so high is that a lot of them are for Polish people whom the Polish Government want to take back to Poland.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, but I am concentrating on our citizens and our electors.
The situation has long troubled me: in principle, if people commit an offence in this country, they should be prosecuted in this country. Many of us feel that way. According to paragraph 4 of article 8 of the treaty on extradition with the States:
“If the offense has been committed outside the territory of the Requesting State, extradition shall be granted in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty if the laws in the Requested State provide for the punishment of such conduct committed outside its territory in similar circumstances.”
Perhaps I am an old-fashioned lawyer—that is my background and training—but I feel deeply that the right forum for prosecution in such a case is in the UK and that people in this country should be tried by their peers. Perhaps I am old-fashioned, perhaps it is our jurisprudence and long legal tradition, but that is how I feel, as so many of us do.
One area in which we in this country have changed direction slightly in the past few years—rightly so, and I suspect the hon. Gentleman would agree with me—is sexual offences, possibly committed in a country such as Thailand by a British national, that might not be prosecuted in Thailand, but could be in this country.
The hon. Gentleman makes the case for the extradition of a British citizen to another jurisdiction where the offence was committed and, arguably, if a sexual offence was committed in Thailand, the right forum for the case would be where the offence took place. I am speaking, however, about when the actus reus of the offence is alleged to have taken place in the UK—in particular, in internet-type cases—so the evidence, and the proper forum, would seem to be in the UK. That is my deep sense of how things should be: if a crime is committed in the UK, it should be prosecuted in the UK. One should not be seized from the UK, as the NatWest three famously were, and sent before a jury in Texas. Having been a partner in an American law firm and having talked to colleagues, my understanding is that Texan juries are simple: people from Texas get a good hearing, but if people are not from Texas, it is a bit more hit and miss. One needs to be cautious in such cases.
Another thing that I and many people feel strongly about is reciprocity, in particular the remarks in the Scott Baker report about probable cause versus reasonable suspicion. That takes us to paragraph 3(c) of article 8 of the treaty. It says
“for requests to the United States,”—
it is only to the United States—
“such information as would provide a reasonable basis to believe that the person sought committed the offense for which extradition is requested.”
That “reasonable basis to believe” finds its origin in the fourth amendment to the US constitution, which was passed in 1791. Interestingly, in our jurisprudence that principle found its heart and motivation in the famous, landmark case of Entick v. Carrington in 1765. I feel that in our Parliament we sometimes forget our finer and more enduring principles, while the Americans seem to embed them slightly more effectively. The Scott Baker report states, in effect, that there is no real difference between probable cause and reasonable suspicion. I do not share that conclusion.
The table in paragraph 7.30 on page 237 of the Scott Baker report, which I am sure everyone has read in great detail, clearly states of requests to the United States:
“Information satisfying the probable cause test”,
but of requests to the United Kingdom it states:
“Information satisfying the reasonable suspicion test”.
Is there a difference between probable cause and reasonable suspicion or not? Scott Baker says not.
Let us look at more of the detail. The Scott Baker report then mentions the definition of “probable cause” in paragraph 7.35 on page 239:
“A well-known definition of probable cause is, ‘a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime’… The Oxford Companion to United States Law defines probable cause as, ‘information sufficient to warrant a prudent person’s belief that the wanted individual had committed a crime’.”
We are talking about the difference between reasonable suspicion and reasonable belief, and I say that belief is a rather higher test than simply suspicion.
Let me give an example. An hon. Member’s Order Paper has gone missing in the House and the Member thinks that a colleague has taken it—but which colleague? There are so many around. The Member sees the Order Paper, or part of it, poking out of a colleague’s jacket, so the Member has a reasonable belief that that colleague has taken it. If the Member does not see anything and merely suspects the ne’er-do-well in the next seat, that is reasonable suspicion, because that colleague has done that kind of thing before. Belief is a higher test than suspicion, and there is strong feeling of concern—rightly—that the treaty does not have the degree of reciprocity that it should have.
Another matter that I feel strongly about, because I believe strongly in the liberty of the subject and the proper testing of any case, is the fact that there should be the old prima facie test that we used to have. I know that that would raise the objection that it leads to long hearings and so on, but why should we not have the same test for extradition as for a committal for trial of the old style? That seems to me to be the right way to go, because we should be cautious before sending our citizens abroad. I appreciate that that may cause difficulties with the European arrest warrant, because it is bound up with the wider European issue, where angels fear to tread. However, leaving that aside, we have wider discretion with other countries, and perhaps we should consider firmer testing of the proof, particularly with jurisdictions where we are unsure whether they will provide the proper level and quality of information and fair trial, and when we worry that they might not be entirely straightforward and honest about their level of evidence. Today, we have heard about cases in which there has been concern about the level of evidence.
I would like the Minister to provide some clarity. I understand that 24 British citizens have been extradited to America, and that one American has been extradited to the UK. Given that the treaty was entered into to deal with terrorism, how many of those 24 cases involved extradition for terrorist-related charges, and how many did not? That is germane to how correctly the House was led when the treaty was introduced. It was told at the time that the treaty covered terrorist activities, but not wider activities.
The Secretary of State should have a backstop power to decline to authorise extradition, and reintroduction of that should be considered to provide extra, discretionary protection in favour of liberty of the subject. We should be super-cautious before sending any of our citizens to face trial in another jurisdiction.
I will be brief, first because, regrettably, I have a prior engagement. I apologise to the Minister and the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman for being unable to be present when they respond to the debate. However, I will read Hansard carefully, because the Minister has a dilemma. An independent review has taken place, and probably all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken wish that the outcome of that review was slightly different. I hope that Hansard will reveal how the Minister intends to take the matter forward.
My second reason for being brief is that many right hon. and hon. Members have made pertinent and cogent points, and have explained why the situation is not palatable or acceptable. In particular, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) set out the concerns with the clarity and precision for which he is renowned. I hazard to say that he used an analytical and forensic approach, something that he thought the Chamber would have no appetite for, but I think it did. There is clearly an appetite in the Chamber today for the matter to be pursued in the House in the near future, with a debatable motion that can be voted on. I would welcome that.
The Liberal Democrats have a history of supporting campaigns to prosecute UK citizens in UK courts, and most notably in cases such as the NatWest three in 2006 and that of Gary McKinnon. My right hon. and learned Friend played a central role in pushing that. In 2009, while in opposition, our leader, the Deputy Prime Minister, said that Gary McKinnon’s extradition would amount to a travesty of justice. He also said that the US-UK extradition treaty is lop-sided. I support that position and agree with that description. The treaty is lop-sided, and the same could be said about the European Union and the European arrest warrant. However, we must adopt a balanced approach to those arrest warrants, and right hon. and hon. Members have referred to cases in which constituents have been extradited, describing the impact on them. Equally, some hon. Members know of British citizens such as a constituent of mine whose son was seriously assaulted in Greece and nearly died as a result. Those who were believed to be responsible were British citizens who were subsequently extradited to Greece using a European arrest warrant. We must adopt a balanced approach.
It is clear from the debate that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber believe that agreements, particularly with the US and the European Union, have stripped the UK of many discretionary powers, and have arguably sacrificed the rights of British citizens for the sake of better relations with the EU and the US.
One contribution that I should highlight is that of the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), who is no longer in his place. He made an unfortunate reference to “so-called” human rights. As citizens, we have intrinsic human rights, and referring to “so-called” human rights denigrates our fundamental rights, which we should be proud of.
Sir Scott Baker’s report explains that, in his view, there is much confusion and misunderstanding about how extradition works, and he rebuts the calls for a change in the law, particularly in cases such as that of Gary McKinnon. I do not agree with his findings, but the review is independent, so dissent is legitimate, if not encouraged. That is why I shall read carefully what the Minister says about that independent review.
I understand that the Deputy Prime Minister, in his capacity as leader of the Liberal Democrats, has set up a party review under the chairmanship of the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell). Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House when that review is likely to report?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend, who has responded in true ministerial mode. The panel will respond as soon as possible.
Sir Scott Baker’s conclusions do not take into account the emotional strain that is put on individuals and families involved in extradition cases. His findings draw conclusions about, for example, whether a forum bar would have been used in historic cases, which are difficult to substantiate. He also suggests a periodic review of arrangements with certain countries, such as Russia or Azerbaijan, with which I feel very uncomfortable. I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, has asked my right hon. and learned Friend to set up a panel, which will report as soon as possible.
I will not refer to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, because many other hon. Members have done so. I shall simply conclude by thanking Sir Scott Baker for his review, although I do not accept his findings. I therefore welcome and endorse the panel that is being established under the leadership of my right hon. and learned Friend. I hope that that panel will make recommendations to address the imbalances that we identified in opposition and which, because we have taken no action so far, remain and must be rectified.
It is a pleasure, Mr Leigh, to follow the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) on this important subject. I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on securing this debate. I agree that it would have been better to have this debate on the Floor of the House. These important matters have been of concern to many Members, hence the large number of right hon. and hon. Members who have attended the debate.
I want to re-emphasise the decisions taken so far by the Home Affairs Committee. Before I do so, I want to commend the excellent report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. It was fair and balanced. It provided Members with an insight into the struggles faced not only by individuals, but by members of families who support those individuals not only in the normal legal process, but against Governments of other countries. It certainly will help my Committee in the work that we do.
I have an apology to make. We started our inquiry into extradition a year ago, but unfortunately events in the Home Affairs Committee tend to gather pace and different issues occupy us. We were therefore not able to conclude our report, partly because of the Committee’s heavy workload, but also because we were waiting for the outcome of Sir Scott Baker’s review. I am pleased to tell the House that Sir Scott Baker will be appearing before the Committee on 20 December. We have been trying to get him before us for a while, but we thought it best that he should report first before we questioned him on his conclusions. This debate will provide us with a great deal of information about individual cases, which I hope will assist the Committee and Parliament once we publish our report in February.
I am delighted that the Liberal Democrats will be having their own review. Judging by what the chairman of the panel has told the House today, I have a fair idea what the conclusions will be even before the review has begun. It would be very odd if we had conclusions from a review chaired by the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) that were different from what he has said today and different from the principled stand that he took on the Gary McKinnon case. It would certainly be a shock to us all if they were different from the words of the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, and the words of the Deputy Prime Minister when in opposition, when he was clear that in his view Gary McKinnon should not be allowed to go to America to face trial.
I am loth to cause a shock to the right hon. Gentleman. He can assume that my views have been formed for a long time and are unlikely to be changed. However, there is an important element, to which I made reference earlier, about how one would effect the changes in the treaty arrangements between this country and the United States to ensure that a system that we find acceptable was put in place.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right. That is the fundamental basis for what should happen next. There is consensus across the House about what is wrong with the treaty. I have spoken to previous Home Secretaries under the previous Government, one of whom expressed regret about the way in which the original treaty was negotiated. The next step, therefore, must be to look again at the treaty and see what changes can be made.
We have heard some extraordinary stories—I should say case histories, not stories—from the hon. Members for South Dorset (Richard Drax) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). We have heard about the excellent work by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan). The Home Affairs Committee listened carefully to the evidence given by the father of Babar Ahmad when he appeared. He spoke with great dignity. If someone’s son has been in custody for as long as Babar Ahmad, I would expect anger and outrage, but the way in which he gave evidence to the Committee was absolutely commendable.
The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), who is not in his place at the moment, has done an outstanding job in protecting his constituent and in advancing the cause of Gary McKinnon. I do not think that we would have been discussing these issues had it not been for the case studies that we have had in Tooting and Southgate.
The Home Affairs Committee has unanimously written to the Minister. We wrote to the previous Minister with responsibility for immigration and the previous Home Secretary under the previous Government to urge them to write to the United States to express a view and conclude this matter. That is my plea to the Minister. We are told that politics is not included in such matters because of their legal nature, but we know that the Prime Minister spoke to President Obama about these matters when the President came to the United Kingdom, so there is politics in this. I cannot see why it has taken 18 months for the Home Secretary to make a decision about this case. I have written to her regularly on behalf of the Committee. Each time she has replied to tell me that the medical evidence cannot be agreed, but the medical evidence, as we have heard from the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, has not changed over the past 18 months. I hope that we can reach a conclusion on this. Once we conclude on Gary McKinnon, and then when we hear the views of the Deputy Prime Minister, we will know the coalition Government’s position on the Act and the treaty. That is why the McKinnon case is so important.
I hope that we will have closure on this matter. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members who have other cases will be able to get satisfaction. I do not know whether our report will be as brilliant as the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, but I hope that, when we report in February, after we have taken evidence from Sir Scott Baker, we will be able to assist the House in deciding what the next steps will be.
Let me add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on securing this important debate.
I am grateful to other hon. Members who have made a strong case for the radical reform of the UK’s extradition treaties by citing the powerful case studies of Deborah Dark and Gary McKinnon and far too many others. Like other hon. Members, I want to use the opportunity of today’s debate to raise the case of Babar Ahmad. As other hon. Members have said, Babar Ahmad, a British citizen, has been detained in the UK for seven years without charge or trial. He is fighting extradition to the USA under the Extradition Act 2003, which, incredibly, does not require the presentation of any prima facie evidence.
Babar is not alone in his ordeal. The poet, Talha Ahsan, is another UK citizen who has also been held—his case is related to Babar’s—without charge and without trial under our shocking extradition arrangements. He is now entering his sixth year of imprisonment. I pay tribute to the courage and bravery of Babar and Talha’s families in fighting for justice for their sons. Before I go on, I want to join others in paying tribute to Babar and Talha’s MP, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan). He is here today, but, as a member of the shadow Cabinet, he is not permitted to contribute to this Back-Bench debate. As we know, he stands firmly by both Babar and Talha and their families and has done so since their ordeals began.
As hon. Members know, in June this year, the Joint Committee on Human Rights urged the Government to change the law, so that Babar Ahmad’s perpetual threat of extradition was ended without further delay. Since all the allegations against Babar Ahmad are said to have taken place in Britain, Babar’s father has started an e-petition to call on the Government to put him on trial in the UK and support British justice for British citizens. As hon. Members will know, over 140,000 people supported that e-petition and, although today’s debate is welcome, it is not enough.
There are three key reasons why we need a full debate on a votable motion in the main Chamber. First, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), who is no longer in her place. She sits on the Backbench Business Committee, and gave an assurance that it would look again at the possibility of holding a full debate in the main Chamber. That is important because of the level of grass-roots support for the e-petition on Babar Ahmad. The campaign had no formal organisation; there were no big newspapers behind it and it was basically an outflowing of grass-roots outrage that saw the families involved going from door to door in south London, out in the cold and the rain, standing outside supermarkets, churches and mosques, and making videos of each other signing the petition—many of those videos were posted on YouTube. It was an example of democracy in action.
The petition gained astounding support in such a short time because this is a shocking human rights case. People are rightly appalled at the simple but extraordinary fact highlighted in the petition: a British citizen is being held, without charge and without trial, in a maximum security prison, and that has gone on for over seven years. I have long lobbied for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, and as we approach the 10th anniversary of its existence, the cases of Babar and Talha remind us that one of the most fearful things about it—people being held without charge and without trial—is happening on UK soil at the behest of the US.
I appreciate that the Backbench Business Committee may find it difficult to devote parliamentary time to every petition that passes the threshold of 100,000 signatures, but this was a genuine grass-roots campaign. If we do not have a full debate in the Commons, we risk alienating the more than 140,000 people who signed the e-petition following efforts by the families involved. Those families want a debate on a votable motion in the main Chamber, as do the campaign’s many supporters. Officially, of course, all parliamentary Chambers are of equal standing, but in the eyes of the general public there is a difference between Westminster Hall and the main Chamber of the House of Commons. Critically, that difference comes down to whether there will be a vote and, quite rightly, Babar Ahmad’s supporters want to see their MPs take a stand on the issue.
Secondly, Babar’s family have been deeply moved that, in the midst of a recession, more people have expressed their concern to Parliament about a British citizen being detained for over seven years without charge or trial, than have shown their anger about rising fuel prices. We will send a negative message to all those who have engaged with the e-petition process if we do not take the matter forward with a debate in the main Chamber.
One of our strongest tools for combating the threat of terrorism is vigorously to protect justice, democracy and human rights. Every time we undermine the values that we purport to protect, with legislation such as the Extradition Act 2003, we run the risk of adding to the sense of alienation that we know is felt by many of our young people. Over 140,000 people have told Parliament that they want MPs to engage more with such issues.
The third reason for having a debate on the Floor of a House and a vote is that we urgently need to change the law. The detention without trial of Babar and Talha undermines our democracy.
I would be happy to take advice from other hon. Members on that, but a vote should consider the design of this country’s extradition treaty, so that it is not imbalanced, as it currently seems to be. I would like such a vote to refer directly to Babar but I understand why others may not. This is a point of general principle, illustrated clearly by the case of Babar Ahmad.
Members have heard the circumstances of Babar Ahmad’s arrest in 2003, and the fact that he sustained at least 73 injuries, all later documented by police and independent doctors. He filed a formal complaint, stating that he had been subjected to horrific physical, sexual and religious abuse by the arresting police officers. In March 2009, the Metropolitan police force finally admitted liability in the royal courts of justice in London and said that it had carried out the assault on Babar Ahmad in December 2003. The then Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, admitted that Babar had been the victim of a
“serious, gratuitous and prolonged attack.”
In March 2009, Babar was awarded £60,000 compensation by the High Court. He is now, however, in his eighth year at a top-security prison, even though he has been found to have no case to answer in this country. The US has alleged that Babar was running a website that solicited funds for terrorist organisations, including al-Qaeda and Chechen rebels. That is a serious accusation, and there should, of course, be a trial. Babar and his family desperately want the case to stand trial but wish that to take place in the UK, not in the US, so that he can clear his name. That is partly because Babar is a British citizen and accused of having committed crimes in the UK, and partly because going to the US would separate him from his family, friends and legal representatives, and seriously undermine his ability to mount a strong defence.
Babar’s lawyers point out that other comparable prosecutions are proceeding in the UK. Nevertheless, in July 2004 and December 2006, the Crown Prosecution Service declared—as did the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, in September 2006—that there was “insufficient evidence” to charge Babar Ahmad with any criminal offence under UK law, and that he should be extradited to the US. Last night, in a shocking turn of events, Babar’s lawyers received a letter from the CPS, which admitted for the first time that it was never given the evidence that was sent to the US, apart from “a few documents.” The bulk of the evidence was shipped straight to the US by the police. Astoundingly, although we had previously been led to believe that the CPS had viewed all the evidence and judged it insufficient to bring the case to trial in the UK, we now have a confession that it had not even seen all the evidence, let alone investigated it properly. A proper decision has not been made on whether a prosecution can go ahead in the UK.
After talking to the lawyers involved, I understand that the CPS knew all along that it had not been given all the evidence. However, it let Babar Ahmad languish in a maximum security prison with the threat of extradition to the US, under the false belief that the CPS had seen all the evidence against him. If that is the case, it is appalling and raises serious questions about why evidence that should have been given to the CPS was not produced, and why Babar was not told about it. Who directed and authorised that circumvention of the CPS, apparently in deference to and at the behest of the US?
The issue is simple: either there is evidence or there is not. If there is evidence, a prosecution should go ahead in the UK. The CPS must immediately obtain a copy of all the evidence, which was gathered in the UK by UK authorities, and it must then review that evidence together with its decision on whether to prosecute in the UK. Given the new revelation from the CPS, it seems—appallingly—that UK authorities deferred to the US, thereby subverting the process that should have been followed and denying Babar Ahmad a trial in this country. Because of the seriousness of the case, it is appropriate to call today for a full public inquiry into what has gone on.
On 10 June 2007, the European Court of Human Rights ordered the UK Government to freeze Babar Ahmad’s extradition until it had fully determined his final appeal. The European Court has declared that Babar’s application is partially admissible and now awaits further observations from the UK Government on the life sentence without parole, in solitary confinement in a supermax prison, that Babar faces if extradited to the United States. The final decision is expected before the end of the year.
It is astonishing that the previous Government passed an Act that does not require the presentation of any prima facie evidence by the US when they wish to extradite a UK citizen. That must be changed urgently, and the way to start such a process is by holding a debate in the main Chamber and having a vote as soon as possible.
In addition to enormous public support, this case also has cross-party backing, together with the support of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Home Affairs Committee, and 100 senior barristers and solicitors who wrote to the Leader of the House this week, requesting that the matter be properly debated in the main Chamber of the House of Commons. Today’s revelations by the CPS make the case for a full debate with a vote even more urgent, and I hope that the Government will look favourably at the issue.
I am conscious that I will be the last person to contribute before the winding-up speeches. A lot has already been said, and I will not repeat points for the sake of repetition, as I believe may have happened previously. Having read the Scott Baker report, my goal is to seek assurances from the Minister that he will engage with the report so that we avoid a passive and compliant acceptance of it. I am sure that he recognises the strength of feeling among hon. Members.
The reason for my concern is summed up in point 1.11 on page 11 of the weighty document that is the Scott Baker report. It simply says:
“Apart from the problem of proportionality, we believe that the European arrest warrant… has worked… well.”
Given the lack of evidence submitted in relation to the Scott Baker report from those who have been on the receiving end of miscarriages of justice—that is how I regard the way they were treated—we would do well to urge the Minister to take into account anecdotal evidence and to lend more weight to it than it seems to have been given in the report.
One reason why I was keen to speak is that I wanted to give voice to my constituent Andrew Symeou and his family, whose nightmare came to an end only earlier this year following a three-year process in which Andrew was finally extradited in 2009 after an arrest warrant had been issued in 2008. He subsequently spent one year in jail in Greece, where he was refused bail simply because he was a foreigner. On top of that, by the time he was rightly found innocent of all charges, there had been a massive cost to his family, whom I have been privileged to get to know very well. They put their lives on hold when they went to Greece to support their son while he was in jail for a year. That gross misuse of the European arrest warrant meant that Frank Symeou’s business inevitably suffered; indeed, he no longer has that business. There was a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the two things. I place on the record my immense admiration for the way they stood by their son, fought bureaucracy, fought their corner and ultimately won the justice that Andrew deserved. Andrew is determined, rightly, to see that we get changes to a system that he believes should not be allowed to administer justice of the sort that he went through.
The right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), who is not in his place, said that he felt that hon. Members were not ready for a forensic, detailed analysis of the 480 pages in Scott Baker’s report. That means that I have wasted a lot of my bedtime reading, but I would like to draw attention to two or three things that point to why the report is wrong to assume that, apart from the problem of proportionality,
“the European arrest warrant scheme has worked reasonably well.”
I shall draw again on real-life anecdotal evidence. I feel that, throughout the review, Scott Baker managed to overlook that anecdotal evidence and has all but rejected many of our concerns.
Let us first examine the concerns regarding the mistreatment of a fugitive’s fundamental human rights. For example, quite important in a trial or a prosecution process, as I am sure hon. Members agree, is the right to have proceedings carried out in one’s own language or with a full translation. I hope that hon. Members share my shock that, although Andrew Symeou was given a translator on the opening day of the trial, it was clear when opening statements were being made that the translator could not even tell the difference between the words “juror” and “witness”. Worse, the translator summarised one set of remarks by saying, “Well, it was something like that. I hope that that will do for you.” That is not the best method of giving confidence to a defendant and it does not meet the requirement to provide a full translation of proceedings. It should be noted that the translator in question was being paid barely £14 a day. I am forced to conclude that that does not necessarily buy the best translation services.
In point 5.53 on page 138 of this weighty volume, Scott Baker says:
“We are also of the view that as a starting point it is not inappropriate to begin with an assumption that surrender to another Member State of the European Union will not involve a violation of human rights.”
He therefore assumes that everything will be okay because the countries that sign up to the European arrest warrant have signed up to the charter of human rights. I submit that that is repeatedly highlighted as a failing.
Let us examine one other area of the review. It does not necessarily relate directly to my constituent, but it points to one of the weaknesses in the report. I am referring to the question of dual criminality. I will not bore hon. Members by going into that in detail—I will assume a degree of understanding—but essentially, under the European arrest warrant scheme, people can be extradited for acts and behaviours that, no matter how abhorrent we may consider them—xenophobia is the most well known example—are not criminal offences in the UK. That flaw has already been highlighted in the work done by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, but Scott Baker’s conclusion is, “Well, yes, we note that”—I paraphrase of course—“but given that it has not been an issue in the last few years, we’re not worried about it.” It worries me that people recognise that something is not quite right, but because nothing has really gone wrong in the past, it is okay. That is like a mechanic noticing a flaw in an aircraft’s landing gear but not taking corrective action, because as far as he is concerned, up till then the plane has always landed safely with the wheels coming down. It does not build confidence.
I am surprised, as I am in relation to other matters—I will not go into them, given the time—that we have not used the review to think about other possible problems that have been highlighted, but, because we may not have come across them, have been dismissed. That is not a satisfactory way to proceed.
I endorse what was said about the nonsensical situation of a court not needing to examine prima facie evidence before a fugitive is extradited. That is considered by the review, but no alternative is reasonably suggested. Again, my concern stems from the case of my constituent, Andrew Symeou. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) highlighted the fact that there were clear discrepancies in the evidence. Clear evidence was presented to the court that showed a change in the statements of witnesses—witnesses who were first in Greece and put under a lot of pressure, but then returned to the UK and immediately withdrew their statements. There was some evidence of abuse as well.
The court noted that, but made it clear that, with the European arrest warrant, this is simply a tick-box exercise—so long as the boxes are ticked, it is not within its remit to pass judgment on the quality of that evidence. Therein lies the problem; that is where we should try to raise the bar. Much has been said about the opportunity to do that. I endorse the support given for a forum bar. That must be examined to introduce a level of security for our citizens in what is a critical affair for them.
My overriding sense and concern is that the European arrest warrant scheme has—not by malicious design; I understand why it was set up—made a particular substitution in the interest of expediency. Of course, we all know the flaws that existed long before it came along. I am thinking of the Costa del Sol—Costa del Crime—and so on. However, in the interest of expediency, the scheme is prepared to accept it as reasonable that there will be disproportionate effects and potential miscarriages of justice. I submit that we should not tolerate that. Not one British citizen should have to go through what my constituent and the others whom we have heard about went through in the interest of expediency and process, however well motivated and well intentioned it was.
I had hoped and expected that the Scott Baker review would be a wholesale rethinking of the UK’s extradition arrangements. Going by today’s debate, it does not appear to have lived up to anyone’s expectations, which I am disappointed by. I remind Members of a comment made before the election that indicated what members of our Front-Bench team thought—that the UK’s extradition arrangements were “a mess”. It is reasonable to conclude that our hopes for Scott Baker now are that while we can learn, listen and take on board what he has said, we must not lose sight of our duty to ensure that our citizens have the right process of justice. That must not be sacrificed on the altar of expediency and process, no matter how successful those might have been with some serious crime. We must find a way through the problem so that we do not end up with fundamental abuses of individuals’ rights, such as those of my constituent, Andrew Symeou.
I hope that we reform the UK’s extradition arrangements so that they are fair and balanced. I am not saying that there is no need to have in place a system that speeds up an extradition process, but fundamentally, I urge Ministers to protect British citizens, rather than sacrifice them on the altar of expediency.
It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Leigh, although I rather liked the moment when you were sitting behind me as though you were my Parliamentary Private Secretary; that would have been a unique combination, and we would have had fascinating debates in our team.
I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on securing this debate. He always manages to secure debates, and the debates are never uncontentious. At the rate he is going, I suspect that he will be the next leader of the Conservative party, but having said that, I have probably destroyed his career.
I agree with right hon. and hon. Members that it is unfortunate, to say the least, that a part of our debate this afternoon is a tagging on of a matter that has been raised by a petition, which has been supported by more than 140,000 people. I have my personal criticisms of the way in which the e-petition system was set up. There are problems in that what the public want may not necessarily be what an individual Back Bencher wants the Backbench Business Committee to advance. However, the topic has its own specific importance and should be debated properly on its own.
I have asked the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) about the nature of the question that one should ask, as that is an important principle. Our debate is in Westminster Hall, immediately next to a place where Parliament regularly used to decide on the guilt—it was nearly always the guilt, rarely the innocence—of people, who were then sent off to face the death penalty. Notwithstanding that fact, it is a good principle that Parliament and elected politicians do not decide on the innocence or guilt of any individual; I am sure that she was not saying that they should. They can decide on matters such as whether they or the House have been lied to and whether there has been a breach of privilege.
Some people have been moving towards the view that we should take some kind of vote on the issue, which I think would be difficult to do. It would also be difficult for us to vote precisely on the question of whether someone should be prosecuted. It is not for this House to decide whether the British prosecuting authority should prosecute. I wholeheartedly support the idea that we have a proper debate on Babar Ahmad in the main Chamber, and also on the wider issues of extradition, the extradition treaty and the European arrest warrant, probably on a votable resolution. However, it would be inappropriate to breach the basic principles that I have set out.
It is a delight to see the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs back in his seat. He sent me a lovely note earlier to say that he was off to another meeting and might miss my “brilliant” speech—though I note that he had added the word “brilliant” afterwards. I think he sent the same note to the Minister.
It is important that we proceed with further debates on another occasion on substantive motions. I recognise the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) has sat here throughout this afternoon’s debate. That is part of the ongoing care that he has been taking of his constituent, which many Members in the debate have recognised.
We have to acknowledge some important first principles. Extradition is a vital part of ensuring the security and safety of people in our own country and around the world, and ever more so today. Perhaps in the 17th and 18th centuries, British people could have evaded justice in this country by going abroad, and vice versa. I do not believe that anyone in the Chamber believes that that should be the case today, especially in a world where people cross borders far more frequently and where crime can be conducted from one country in another country far more easily. It is all the more important that we have a sane and sensible process of extradition.
One of my criticisms of one of the most unfair imbalances relates to the relationship between the United Kingdom and Russia. Russia will not extradite—because its constitution refuses to allow it to do so—any Russian national ever, come what may. I believe that Andrey Lugovoy should have been extradited to this country a long time ago for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. I do not think we will ever see justice for Mr Litvinenko’s widow, who suffers, in many ways, exactly the same deprivation of justice that many have referred to in the cases where British people have been extradited abroad.
The UK issued 1,295 European arrest warrants in a relatively short period of seven years. Out of those, there have been 581 surrenders to the UK. Sometimes, they have been British nationals in other countries who have committed crimes. The hon. Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) referred to the Costa del Crime. British prosecuting authorities being unable to pursue justice had been a permanent feature—people could go off, live in Spain and never come back to the UK. I am glad to say that the Costa del Crime has been closed down. One of the people involved in the 21 July attempted bombings in the United Kingdom was brought back to the UK from Italy swiftly by virtue of the European arrest warrant. Similarly, a large number of IRA terrorists were brought back to the UK by the EAW. We should not chuck the baby out with the bathwater. There were 179 returns from Spain and 117 from Ireland, which is quite important to us.
Of course, extradition should not always be granted. Notwithstanding the many cases that have been referred to this afternoon, many requests are not granted. There were 4,325 requests to the UK, and only 3,107 were granted. Indeed, quite a lot from Russia have not been granted, because they were determined to have been based solely on political considerations and not truly on the pursuit of justice. That is why the two clauses regarding the two categories of countries relating to human rights are important.
The honest truth is that it is a right old mix. That is why, as we consider the matter, there is a danger that we proceed only on the basis of what the hon. Gentleman referred to as anecdotal evidence of individual cases, rather than properly garnered substantive evidence that covers the whole realm.
I know the case of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent very well; I have met the family. When the hon. Gentleman’s predecessor was a Member of Parliament, I answered debates. At the Foreign Office, we tried as much as possible to rectify the problems with Greek justice. His constituent’s case was far from a unique example, not specifically regarding extradition, but regarding British people facing justice in Greek jails, in a criminal justice system that was falling apart at the seams in many ways. The Foreign Office had a difficult job to do in trying to ensure that those people got justice.
Yes, of course I do. It is always quite difficult to achieve perfectly because people have different criminal justice systems. If we proceed on the basis of English common law, we end up with a different sort of process than we would if our whole justice system were based on the Napoleonic code. This is where we need to do more work on the European arrest warrant. I would not want to get rid of the EAW because, broadly speaking, it has worked to our benefit. There are elements of it, however, that have not helped. It seems bizarre, for instance, that 1,659 of the cases that are sought from the UK are from Poland and 355 from Lithuania. The rumour is that they are all to do with sheep rustling and so on, but because there is a different prosecutorial regime in Poland and in Lithuania, we need to get to a system of proportionality in the advance of European arrest warrants. If we do not, we simply will not have the reciprocity to which the hon. Gentleman refers. We also need to do more to help other countries to develop a strong criminal justice system that meets the threshold for justice and impartiality to which we, in this country, aspire. That is obviously an important part of what we need to work on in relation to new countries coming into the European Union.
I also believe that justice in relation to extradition needs to be exercised on a fair, balanced and relatively swift basis. If we take completely out of the equation the nature of the allegations against Mr Ahmad, the fact that he has been in prison for so long without any form of trial, charge or anything at all is manifestly unfair and unjust. It is not because the Americans want him to be kept there—they would like to be able to proceed with the prosecution and come to a resolution of the case. It is because the European Court of Human Rights is taking a phenomenally long time to resolve its issues, which is why I support substantial reform of how the Court operates so that there can be a degree of swiftness in relation to extradition. In a sense, slow justice is no justice.
When we were in government, we made it clear that the US and the UK ran different but parallel systems. The Baker review agrees with what Patricia Scotland said when she was Attorney-General. If there is to be a change in the balancing requirements between the two countries, it must be based on hard evidence. Some of the numbers that have been advanced this afternoon in relation to the US are not, I think, right. In so far as I am aware, there have been many more requests to the UK than there have been from the UK to the United States of America. However, I think only one request to the US has been denied since 2004. Of course more British people go to the United States regularly than there are Americans who come to the United Kingdom, so the imbalance in the numbers is partly to be expected.
The Deputy Leader of the House is shaking his head. If he has other statistics, I will be happy to give way to him.
The Government have a problem. The Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats made a series of commitments when they were in opposition to change the treaty to ensure that Gary McKinnon would not be sent to the United States of America. As I understand it, the Government were going to rely on the Baker review, but that review has provided exactly the opposite answer to what they expected.
I rise in reference to Gary McKinnon. I am not aware of any suggestion from the Government that the Baker review is linked to Gary McKinnon because any measure would have to be applied retrospectively. The only determination in relation to Gary McKinnon relies on the review’s work with respect to medical evidence. It is important for us not to talk down the opportunities for Gary McKinnon on the back of the Baker review. It is primarily on the basis of the medical evidence that his case is being considered.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important correction. I apologise for that conflation of views. We have the Baker review now. I am sure that hon. Members are far more interested in hearing from the Minister about what the Government will do about this than in hearing from me.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. I have a series of questions for the Minister. What timeline are the Government setting themselves for proceeding with this matter? As every month goes by, there are more extradition requests and more people are brought into the system. What do the Government intend to do in relation to Gary McKinnon and what timetable are they proceeding along? What estimation have they made of the Baker report? Do the Government agree with any of it? Do they intend to commission a new report? What standing will the report by the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) have in relation to the Government’s position?
It is a pleasure to sit under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Leigh. I join everyone else in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (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 the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) on behalf of the Opposition. I am happy to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (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 the Member for North East Fife (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 12 June 2007, that Court imposed a stay on his extradition, and on 8 July 2010—three years later—the Court declared his case partially admissible and it remains under consideration by that Court. The e-petition on behalf of Mr Ahmad calls for him to be put on trial in the UK, since the allegations against him in the United States relate to alleged conduct that took place while he was in the United Kingdom. The Government note the concern of petitioners on this issue, but it is not for the Government to decide if and when someone should be prosecuted in the United Kingdom. The decision as to whether to bring a prosecution is a matter for the independent prosecuting authorities—
I will give way shortly; let me finish going through the detail.
To date, the prosecuting authorities have decided not to prosecute Mr Ahmad in the UK and in terms of the extradition request the courts in the United Kingdom have held that authorities in the United States have jurisdiction in relation to the offences of which Mr Ahmad is accused, and that they are entitled to seek his extradition. Mr Ahmad’s case has been exhaustively considered by the UK courts and they have concluded that there are no bars to his extradition.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Can he say whether he believes that the latest information we have—that the CPS apparently did not see all the evidence before it went to the US—changes the analysis that he is putting forward? How will his Department follow up the matter? It seems pretty shocking to me if the CPS has essentially been saying that there is insufficient evidence to try Mr Ahmad in the UK, yet now we discover that it has not even seen all the evidence.
The hon. Lady made an extremely interesting point earlier; when she revealed it a few minutes ago, it was the first I had heard of it. Obviously, all involved will need to look very carefully at the evidence that she is bringing forward.
Mr Ahmad is now challenging extradition before the ECHR. The Court has asked a number of questions in relation to the case and both sides have submitted observations on those points on several occasions. The review panel highlighted in its report cases that awaited a decision by the ECHR and the amount of time that they had been before that Court. It recommended that the matter of the delay is taken up by the Government urgently, and that the Court should be encouraged to give priority to cases where extradition has been stayed. The Government are considering that recommendation along with the others made by the review panel, but the United Kingdom has previously pressed, and will continue to press, for the Court to reach its decision as soon as possible.
Understandably, many concerns have been expressed, both today and over the years, about the length of time that Mr Ahmad has been detained in custody awaiting the outcome of the extradition request. Again, I obviously appreciate the concerns about this issue, but Mr Ahmad has been detained at all times on the order of the court. He may, of course, apply for bail at any time and a decision as to whether to grant any application for bail is also a matter for the court.
As I have said, we continue to press the ECHR to reach its decision on the case as soon as possible, and where the Court seeks observations or clarifications from the Home Office on the representations in the case, they are provided as soon as possible. We are acutely aware of the time that has passed since the extradition request was first made and of the importance of dealing with the matters raised as quickly as is consistent with fairness to all sides.
Concerns have also been raised in respect of the case of Gary McKinnon and I hope that it will be useful if I also update the House on his case. Mr McKinnon’s case is different from Mr Ahmad’s case as it falls to be decided by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I will briefly explain the reasons. Mr McKinnon has exhausted all rights of appeal under the Extradition Act 2003 and in his case the ECHR refused an application to impose a stay on his extradition. However, the Home Secretary is under a duty under the Human Rights Act 1998 not to act in a manner that is incompatible with a person’s rights under the European convention on human rights. Therefore, she must consider whether, as a result of events occurring after the extradition proceedings, it would be contrary to the convention for a person to be extradited. The sole remaining issue, therefore, is whether extradition is compatible with Mr McKinnon’s convention rights. The Home Secretary sought the independent advice of the chief medical officer, who has provided the names of two experts she believes are well placed to provide evidence on the relevant medical issues. Those experts have now been instructed to review the various reports that have been submitted in Mr McKinnon’s case. They will prepare a report that will help the Home Secretary to determine whether or not extradition would contravene Mr McKinnon’s convention rights.
The case is taking time to resolve. Obviously, it would not be appropriate for me to go into the detail, but as Members will appreciate there have been a number of issues relating to the case that have been the subject of lengthy discussions. We hope that the experts will report as soon as possible. However, this is not an easy case and there are a number of issues that will need to be considered in depth. I am conscious of the long and energetic campaign mounted by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), and I know that he appreciates the frustrations of all involved at the length of the case.
Members on both sides of the House have raised concerns about specific European arrest warrant cases, and although the EAW is dealt with operationally by the Serious Organised Crime Agency and not the Home Office, a number of significant cases have been brought to our attention. The extradition review, although not referring specifically to cases, has dealt with a variety of high-profile issues that the cases have highlighted. I assure Members that we will take those issues, and the circumstances of the individual cases, into account when considering the range of EAW issues, many of which were dealt with in considerable detail by the extradition review panel. In particular, I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton about European arrest warrants being issued for trivial offences. I know that other EU member states and, indeed, the European Commission, share that concern with the British Government. As part of the review process, we are considering what action we should take to address the issue. In the meantime, there are ongoing discussions with our Polish counterparts to encourage their prosecutors and courts to consider whether the issuing of an EAW, in the way it has been done in the past, is a proportionate step to take.
My hon. Friends the Members for South Dorset (Richard Drax) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) said that they supported the concept of the EAW but that it had to be properly implemented, and when the Home Secretary announced the extradition review we recognised that there were serious concerns regarding that. The Baker report looked at that area in considerable detail and made recommendations on proportionality, pre-trial detention and, in certain cases, the possibility of people serving sentences in the UK rather than being extradited. In reaching its conclusions, the extradition review panel took evidence from a wide range of parties, and we will be looking at it very carefully.
Many Members raised issues about UK and US extradition figures, including the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife and the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis) who chairs the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Between 2004 and July 2011, the US made 130 extradition requests to the UK, seven of which have been refused by UK courts, and the UK made 54 requests to the US, none of which has been refused. In the same period, 27 UK citizens were extradited to the US and 18 US citizens to the UK. To clear up a point of confusion, the UK-US treaty covers all types of criminality; it was not agreed simply to ensure that people suspected of terrorist offences could be brought to justice. Indeed, no one has been extradited in either direction for terrorist offences since 2004, because in the case of extraditions to the US, the cases, including Babar Ahmad’s, are being considered by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, due to the human rights issues they raise.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife made a point about the Home Secretary’s power to take decisions in this area. It is a matter of lively debate as to what quasi-judicial powers politicians should have, but it is important to make clear what considerations should be taken into account. In a case involving extradition within the EU, there is no role for the Home Secretary; in a case involving extradition to another country, her role under the Extradition Act 2003 is limited to considering the death penalty, speciality—the protection that ensures that someone can be tried only for the offence for which they are extradited—and onward extradition, which deals with whether the state has given consent when someone has previously been extradited or transferred to the UK. There is, however, a duty on the Secretary of State under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 to ensure that extradition does not breach someone’s human rights, as I explained in the context of the Gary McKinnon case. During the statutory extradition process, human rights are considered by the courts, but if a human rights issue arises after the end of that process the Home Secretary must consider these issues.
I wish to leave some time for my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton to respond to the debate, so I will close by reiterating that we will take note of not just the many interesting comments and points made today, but also the various reports of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the reports we are expecting from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife and from the Home Affairs Committee. It is precisely because so many authoritative reports are being produced that I cannot respond to the question that various people have asked about an exact timeline for when we will come to a decision, but this has been an extremely valuable debate, and will play its own part in allowing the Government to develop the response that we will, as the Home Secretary has said, produce as soon as is practicable.
It is a great privilege to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Leigh. I pay tribute to many colleagues on both sides of the House who have participated in the debate. I thank my three co-sponsors, the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell).
There have been many incisive contributions, and some harrowing stories of cases and of the ordeals that victims have been through. The hon. Members for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) talked about the Babar Ahmad case in particular. Clearly it is of great concern that we have had someone languishing in detention without trial for seven years. My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) talked about the Michael Turner case and his four months in detention in appalling conditions, and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) spoke of another appalling case, that of Deborah Dark. I have met Deborah Dark; she is incredibly courageous.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) talked about the Gary McKinnon case and the wider issues affecting the US treaty, and I join him in paying tribute to Gary’s mother, Janis Sharp, who is a phenomenon and a force to be reckoned with. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) talked about the case of Andrew Symeou, and in particular made a point about the devastating impact on his family, which must be taken into account. Other colleagues raised broader issues about the operation of our extradition arrangements, and the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), with her considerable professional experience, focused on the practical reforms we need.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) said that Parliament is a backstop for the liberty of our own citizens, and we should never lose sight of that. The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) gave us a very cogent analysis of the Baker review, and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), made some important points about the constitutional proprieties in the House of Commons, the value of extradition, of which we should not lose sight, and the case for a Chamber debate on a votable motion. If it is appropriate, I should also like to recognise the presence and support of the shadow Secretary of State for Justice, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), even though he is constrained and cannot speak in the debate.
I welcome the Minister’s speech. He has been a staunch defender of civil liberties and has given us some useful clarification about his thinking. The Government deserve some credit for commissioning the independent review, even though almost every Back-Bench speaker has, I think, expressed reservations about it and has urged the Government to look more carefully at the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
I wish to pick up on two points. The first is about forum and the importance of its being decided by judges, transparently and openly, and not by prosecutors, who even with guidelines engage in a bit of haggling. The second point is about the European arrest warrant. It is not just trivial cases. Some of the charges are very serious, but the evidence is woefully lacking and there ought to be an opportunity at a very basic level to challenge it.
We have rare cross-party consensus on this issue. We have a unique opportunity, and I hope that the Government can take it.
Question put and agreed to.