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Extradition

Volume 542: debated on Tuesday 20 March 2012

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on reform of the UK’s extradition arrangements. (100654)

I meet the Home Secretary regularly to discuss a wide range of issues of mutual interest. I know that my right hon. Friend is giving careful consideration to the recommendations in Sir Scott Baker’s review of extradition, and will make a further statement to Parliament detailing what action the Government propose to take as soon as is practicable.

As the Attorney-General has told the Select Committee on Home Affairs that he is not sure that changing the test applied in UK and US extradition cases would make any difference, does he regret his previous statement that our extradition laws are “one-sided” and should be rewritten?

It is worth bearing in mind that part of the problem for the first three years was that the last Government decided to implement the extradition treaty on a one-sided basis, so that we extradited to the US under the terms of our treaty at a time when the US would not carry out such extraditions. I think the hon. Lady will find that one of the reasons why I made that comment was that at the time of that debate, which took place in 2006, the United States had still not ratified the treaty. There are undoubtedly differences between the way in which the test that is required is applied, but having looked at the matter carefully. I do not think that the treaty as it stands at the moment can be described as one-sided. What can be said is that, as I explained to the Home Affairs Committee, there remain serious issues with public confidence in the way in which the extradition system with the United States operates.

But is it not important to recognise why there are serious anxieties among the public about the nature of the system for extradition, and does not the question of the different standard of proof on each side of the Atlantic lie right at the very heart of that anxiety? The Attorney-General will be obliged to give legal advice to the Home Secretary. Will he give her advice that points to the fact that the two standards are different, and therefore that the political conclusion that the system is failing is a legitimate one?

I have to say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I do not think that, in practice, the difference between a test of “probable cause”, which we have to show in the United States, and a test of “reasonable suspicion”, which the United States has to show here, amounts to a very significant difference at all. As I mentioned to the Home Affairs Committee, in any event, the United States usually provides material to its own “probable cause” standard, so I have to say that I may disagree with him on this. Although I accept that there is an argument that this country could seek to move to a “probable cause” basis, to mirror that of the United States, in practice I do not think that that would make a very substantial difference to the way in which the extradition agreement with the US worked.

The Attorney-General will know that since his own appearance before the Home Affairs Committee, President Obama and the Prime Minister have announced a joint initiative to look into the operation of the treaty. In the light of that initiative, and the review that is now being conducted by the Home Secretary, does the Attorney-General agree that it would not be in the public interest for any British citizen to be extradited to the United States under the treaty until the review and the initiative have been concluded?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, and as I explained to the Home Affairs Committee, the discretion for the Home Secretary, or any member of the Executive, to prevent an extradition from taking place is extremely limited under the current law. I am afraid that what the right hon. Gentleman is asking for would be impossible, unless Parliament were to enact fresh legislation.

Has the Attorney-General had any discussions about the UK and US team that has been set up? What is its remit? Does it include only implementation, or could it also include issues such as the forum bar?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the matter was discussed by the Prime Minister and President Obama during the Prime Minister’s visit to the United States. The Prime Minister said that they would seek ways in which the treaty could be better operated in practice, and ways in which some of the public concerns could be addressed. At this stage that is probably all that I can reasonably say, but I can give the right hon. Gentleman an assurance that this is a matter that the Government and I take seriously.

Does the Attorney-General think it entirely fair that the European arrest warrant can be used to extradite people from this country with no evidence whatever, and that the Home Secretary, who has absolutely no room for manoeuvre, simply has to hand those people over to other Governments, some of whom have a burden of proof that is quite dubious?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this subject causes disquiet, but it was his Government who enacted the necessary legislation to enable these circumstances to come about. The matter will come up for review, as part of the third pillar arrangements, by 2014.