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Israel: Tom Hurndall and James Miller

Volume 684: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether the Attorney-General has responded to the St Pancras coroner’s request to consider whether cases might be brought in the United Kingdom regarding the deaths of Tom Hurndall and James Miller.

My Lords, I have met both families and their lawyers. I have had detailed discussions with the Israeli authorities, who have been very co-operative, for which I am grateful. Further information is being provided to me from Israel, including evidence gathered in the Israeli investigations. I shall needto consider that carefully before reaching any conclusions. At the same time, the Israeli Attorney-General is reviewing the cases in the light of the concerns I raised with him.

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that reply, and I thank him on behalf of the families, who are here today, for his assistance, which they very much appreciate. The coroner asked him to require the Israeli authorities to hold proper investigations and for him to consider taking proceedings in the UK. Given the history of the cases, in particular the fact that the suspected killer of James Miller is not only still in the IDF but has been promoted in it, how confident is he that successful investigations can take place there? If he is receiving all the assistance that he needs from the Israeli authorities, which it seems is better than the coroner did, what is his timetable for deciding whether proceedings might be taken in the United Kingdom?

My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Baroness said. How long it will take to reach a conclusion will depend on how long it takes to receive the information and to digest it. For example, the Israeli authorities are making special application to the Israeli military court in the Hurndall case to release to me information that would normally be kept closed and not be available to the families. Of course, it is difficult to reinvestigate something after this length of time, which is why it is important for me to consider as closely as I can the material that was gathered by the Israeli authorities at the time. I will keep the House informed of where I get to.

My Lords, I preface my remarks by telling the House that James Miller was the brother of my son’s wife. I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General for all that he has said, but is it not now plain that it is very unlikely that there will be any prosecution in Israel of those involved in the death of James Miller and equally unlikely that there will be a new inquiry to makeup for the deficiencies of the military police investigation? In those circumstances and in the light of the verdict in the coroner’s court, does he agree that a prosecution in England seems at present the only way in which any justice will be done for James Miller’s family?

My Lords, I absolutely acknowledge why the noble Lord puts the question to me in the way that he does. I must reserve judgment until I have been able to examine, with assistance, all the material available. The Israeli authorities have been co-operative. As he will know, I have very great sympathy for the families of both men. I will continue to consider my responsibilities, and I am committed to carrying those out completely.

My Lords, the coroner, Dr Reid, recommended a prosecution under Section 1(1) of the Geneva Conventions Act 1957, following the verdicts of the British jury of unlawful killing in respect of both men. Will the noble and learned Lord confirm that that is an extraditable offence, with extraterritorial jurisdiction that the courts of this country have full power to deal with? Does he agree that the verdicts of the British juries, who heard all the evidence at that stage, are a firm foundation to issue a warrant already in this country regardless of any further investigations in Israel and for a request to be made by the Home Office for extradition to this country?

My Lords, I do not entirely agree with the noble Lord. The coroner’s jury did not in fact hear all the evidence—that is part of the criticism of what took place—because it did not have available the information and evidence that had been gathered in Israel. The coroner was concerned that, as he saw it, he had not received co-operation. I hope that that will be remedied in the case of what I am looking at. We are not at the stage where it would be right to look for warrants. It is important to continue the investigation; that is what I am determined to do to reach a proper conclusion. Certainly, in theory, there are offences that would be extraditable.

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General has taken a close interest in military rules of engagement with respect to British forces on operations. When he was in Israel, didhe have an opportunity to discuss the rules of engagement that were pertinent to these cases, and if so does he feel that there may be a case to be looked at in terms of the higher command of the Israeli Defence Force?

My Lords, I raised the question of the rules of engagement pertaining to these cases. To give me further information about that, a request is being made to the Israeli military court to release information to me that would normally not be available outside that court.