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Extradition: UK and USA

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What representations they have received about modifications to the extradition treaty with the Government of the United States.

My Lords, we are unaware of representations about modifications to the treaty with the United States. There have been representations to amend the law that deals with extradition requests from the United States, and many of these have called for the United States to provide prima facie evidence with their extradition requests, as they used to do. However, we think that this is misconceived. The respective evidential requirements, having previously been unbalanced—placing a greater burden on the US than on the United Kingdom—have now been broadly evened up.

My Lords, does it not shriek with injustice and is it not grossly unfair that British citizens can be extradited to the US by the expedited process under the treaty, when the UK Government will have to provide prima facie evidence to the US? That is not, as my noble friend suggests, a rebalancing. Should we not have ensured at the time of negotiation that there was reciprocity in the coming into operation of the obligations? Would it not make sense and be just for us to give adequate notice to our US partners under the treaty that we intend to suspend its operation until such time as the US Senate ratifies it and puts the same obligations on their citizens as we have imposed on ours?

My Lords, as I have now said on a number of occasions, I understand the concern expressed by my noble friend, but the point is in fact flawed. The new arrangements enable us to have a comparable system to that in the United States. This is a rebalancing that makes the system fairer, as opposed to the unbalanced situation before, in which they had to provide prima facie evidence to us and we did not have to provide prima facie evidence to them.

My Lords, where does the Minister get the extraordinary idea that the test of “probable cause” that the Americans apply is much less demanding than the test of showing that there is a case to answer, which we applied until 2003, when the Government made the new order? Is it not clear that, in the present extradition arrangements, there is a substantial unbalance that needs to be remedied? Will the Government now get around to revoking their 2003 order and the 2003 treaty itself?

My Lords, no. The noble Lord and I enjoyed ourselves enormously during the 2003 debates on that Bill, as did a number of noble Lords. We went through the matter again and again. Nothing appears to have changed since we enjoyed those lengthy debates.

My Lords, is not the present unbalance a consequence of the failure of the Government to foresee, as they should have done, the possibility that the United States Senate would not ratify the treaty?

My Lords, the issues were foreseen. There are difficulties, which we explored when we debated the issues on other occasions. The Senate has its processes that have to be gone through, and we have, of course, strenuously encouraged our American partners to deal with the matter as quickly and as expeditiously as possible. We continue to press that case in a very direct way.

My Lords, on the last occasion when this question was raised, were we not told that it made no difference in practice that the treaty had not yet been ratified by Congress and that extradition continues to take place and will continue to take place both ways, as one would expect?

My Lords, extradition continues both ways. The noble and learned Lord is right. Whether under the old or the new treaty, proper cases are still going forward.

My Lords, many people are puzzled as to why it is proper to extradite British citizens to the United States for offences committed in this country. Could my noble friend explain the rationale for that?

My Lords, the issue is whether there is an offence in another country that falls within our current extradition rules. If there is such an offence, the treaty would bite and, applying those provisions, the extradition would take place. We have benefited greatly from those provisions, as do our partners. The United States are in the same position as every other country in the schedule of which they are part.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not see the unfairness? Three bankers were extradited for something that the Americans accused them of doing in this country, which our Crown Prosecution Service took no notice of and said that no offence had been committed. The noble Baroness simply looks away and cannot understand the unfairness of it. That is what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is driving at and that is what irritates so many of us on this side of the House.

My Lords, the noble Earl has been in the House longer than I have. Therefore, I am confident that he understands the rules of sub judice, just as every other person in the House does.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the opposition in Congress to ratification was based very much on American domestic politics and, in particular, the views of the Irish-American lobby, which resists anything that could extend British jurisdiction over cases in that country? Are the Government making representations to say that it is not an issue of British/Irish-American relations but a much broader set of judicial issues?

My Lords, the noble Lord touches on issues that are, of course, sensitive to the United States. We have made it absolutely clear that the issue should be dealt with expeditiously. When I saw the Deputy Attorney General very recently, I impressed on him that very point. Those matters are being pressed with our American partners at every possible opportunity.

My Lords, the Minister says that the case was sub judice. Has she taken any advice from the House authorities to prove that that is so?

My Lords, those cases are currently being debated judicially. I have not taken advice, but we know well that we are not entitled to speak about cases that are currently being dealt with by the courts.

My Lords, does the Minister accept, notwithstanding the extreme robustness of her response, that there is huge disquiet on all sides of the House about the situation? As there is before the House a Bill that would seek to redress what many of us see as an issue that needs to be resolved, does she also accept, again notwithstanding the robustness of her response, that that opportunity should and, I suspect, will be taken by this House to ask the Commons to think again about the matter and to seek to change the view of the Executive?

My Lords, I understand the sentiment that is being expressed. The law is as it currently is; obviously, it is up to this House to debate the issue, as I dare say it will when the matter comes before it later.