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Mr Anthony Duncan

Volume 571: debated on Thursday 2 May 1996

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What was the "fatal flaw" in the extradition documents presented to the Dublin courts in the attempt to extradite Mr. Anthony Duncan from Dublin to this country on Friday 12th April last.

My Lords, the reason the application was dismissed was that the original arrest warrant issued in this country was not produced to the Irish court at the hearing on Saturday 13th April; a photocopy was produced instead. There is a conflict of evidence as to how that came about. A fresh warrant was obtained and delivered the following morning to the Irish authorities.

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that reply. Is he aware that I received a photostat copy of a letter from the High Court in Dublin which states that the signature, which purports to be that of a magistrate, was not authenticated? That illustrates that the request for extradition was fatally flawed.

My Lords, I was not aware that my noble friend had received such a letter. My understanding of the position is that the documents presented to the Irish court were in order save for this: instead of a principal, a photocopy was produced. These days photocopies are of a high quality and it is possible to make a mistake as to whether a document is an original or a photocopy. Exactly where the error occurred is a matter of conflict of evidence. The senior officer of the Metropolitan Police who took the documents to Ireland is of the view that what he took and handed over was the original. If that is the position, the error must lie with the Irish authorities. By the time the documents reached the Irish court, a photocopy rather than the original was produced. That is as far as I can take the matter. As I said, the senior officer of the Metropolitan Police believes that he took the original to Ireland.

My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that I hold a copy of the fax in my hand? With respect, my noble and learned friend is misinformed. The fax says, first, that the Irish Times reported the histoire about the copy being the reason. But the Dublin High Court says that that is incorrect. The fax states that the true reason—which was a good reason—was that the signature which purported to be of a magistrate was not authenticated. Does my noble and learned friend agree that that is a clear, just and wholly correct reason for refusing extradition? There appears to be a muddle about it.

My Lords, there is no doubt that my information suggests what is a perfectly good reason for refusing extradition until the original copy arrived. I do not possess a copy of the fax to which my noble friend refers, but what I am saying is perfectly consistent with what he narrated as being stated in the fax. If it was a photocopy, then it was not the original signature of the magistrate. I am not suggesting and have never suggested that that was not a perfectly good reason for the Dublin court to refuse to grant an extradition warrant. The question is how that error arose. I have explained as far as I can the conflict of evidence that surrounds the matter.

My Lords, though we cannot go back in time, is it not important that, whatever the problem was, it is not repeated in the future?

My Lords, it is highly desirable that the fault is not repeated. However, there are not many infallible human beings around.

My Lords, the noble Lord says that there are a few; I believe I know where they are not.

The situation is that this was obviously a human error. Somebody confused the original with a rather good photostat. That was a sad and unfortunate error. I am sure that those involved will do their best to see that it does not happen again. Nothing makes one so careful as something having gone wrong in a specific way. I am sure that everybody will do their best to prevent the error recurring.

My Lords, does the Lord Chancellor realise that, over the years, those on the ground in Northern Ireland have suffered something like 3,000 deaths and do not find the matter amusing? Which Minister's job is it to make sure that this situation does not arise again? It has happened before.

My Lords, I do not find it amusing in the sense that very important matters depend upon this, but I do find it extremely difficult to give your Lordships an infallible method of ensuring that something of this kind does not happen from time to time. Every effort is made to see that it does not happen. In this particular case a new warrant was immediately sent out and no adverse consequences have arisen.

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that there seems to be an extraordinary record of human error relating to requests for extradition for alleged terrorists from the Republic of Ireland? Can he say whether any other country finds that our officials are so frequently guilty of human error in these matters?

My Lords, I am only really aware in detail of the circumstances of this case, but those are circumstances which I think your Lordships could well understand. I am not aware of the extent to which this type of difficulty has arisen before, either in relation to the Republic of Ireland or in relation to other countries. My noble friend will know that the procedures in relation to the Republic of Ireland are different in certain respects because its own internal law governing extradition is different from that of many other countries.

My Lords, is my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack aware, as I am, that a very large number of errors have been made both in Northern Ireland and in this jurisdiction in connection with preparing the documentation to allow law officers to apply for extradition in Dublin? Secondly, would it not be a good idea if my noble and learned friend's department were to ask the department from which the information came whether he was in fact correctly or incorrectly informed as to the cause of the breakdown in this case?

My Lords, I am certainly aware that over the years mistakes have been made in relation to extradition documents, as my noble and learned friend Lord Lowry says. I am not aware of any reason to doubt the information on which I am basing my answers to your Lordships. So far as I can see it is a perfectly possible explanation of the difficulties that arose in this case, although, as I explained, new documents were quickly obtained and transmitted to the Irish authorities.