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Extradition: UK-US Treaty

Volume 697: debated on Tuesday 8 January 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they are taking to renegotiate the current extradition treaty with the United States.

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are not taking any steps to renegotiate our extradition treaty with the United States. The treaty came into force on 26 April 2007, when the United States and the United Kingdom Governments exchanged instruments of ratification. Extradition arrangements between the United Kingdom and the United States are balanced and fair, despite differences in terminology and procedure.

My Lords, at present it is easier for people to be extradited from the United Kingdom to the United States than vice versa. Is that position not intolerable because of the difference in burdens of proof? At a time when there seem to be signs of a considerable mood change towards a greater emphasis on fairness and justice in international relations in the United States, is this not rather a good time to reopen the issue?

My Lords, I do not accept that premise. The requirements are as broadly comparable as it is possible to achieve between two different jurisdictions. It is worth setting this in context by giving some figures. Since 1 January 2004, when the prima facie evidential requirement was removed from the United States, 37 people have been extradited from this country to the United States. Of those, 11 were to face allegations of so-called white-collar crimes such as mail fraud and satellite signal fraud. However, 26 of them—or 70 per cent—involved serious offences such as murder, rape, indecent assault, drugs and child pornography. Thirteen people have travelled from the United States to the United Kingdom, of whom four were for white-collar crimes—so it is roughly 30 per cent in each case. It is also interesting that in each case 54 per cent of the requests applied for have been granted.

My Lords, I suggest that in this regard there is not injustice but a disparity. Is there not a case to review these reciprocal arrangements—one reason being the plea-bargaining structure in the United States?

My Lords, again, I do not think that that is necessary. The United States is a mature democracy with a legal system that is underpinned by its Bill of Rights, which owes its origins to our own Magna Carta. There are full and proper safeguards in the 2003 Act.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the United States is the UK’s largest extradition partner, so it is a very serious matter to ensure full equality of treatment between the two countries. Do the people of this county have to await a more liberal Administration in the United States and this country to achieve full reciprocity?

The Minister says that there is substantial equality but, with respect, that is not correct. The sixth amendment to the American constitution requires a greater standard of fairness than this extradition treaty—the Ashcroft-Blunkett treaty. Why can we not seek to remove six words from Article 8 of the treaty and achieve full reciprocity and fairness?

My Lords, I repeat that the requirements are broadly comparable. This is not only the case with the United States; the requirement not to provide prima facie evidence is not unusual—it applies also to Canada, New Zealand, Australia and to all the EU countries that are signed up to the ECE. That has been the case since 1991. So this is not at all unusual and is, I think, perfectly fair.

My Lords, can the Minister accept that the figures quoted by him are probably less than meaningful, bearing in mind the fact that the population of the United States is roughly five times that of the United Kingdom?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a point that I could not have made better. The difference in numbers of those who have gone from one country to the other relates to the fact that there are some 260 million people in the United States and some 60 million here.

My Lords, is it not the case that the EU-US extradition arrangements provide greater guarantees than this bilateral treaty?

My Lords, I do not believe that that is the case. When we go from the UK to the US we have to show “reasonable suspicion” and, the other way around, “probable cause” has to be shown. We ask the US to provide information that would justify the issue of a warrant for an arrest of a person within the judge’s jurisdiction. As I have said previously, the US is a mature democracy and these arrangements are broadly comparable.

My Lords, could the Minister advise us how many cases in which the British Government have asked for extradition were related to terrorism?

My Lords, perhaps I may come back to the noble Baroness later in writing. I think that it is a very small number—one or two cases, in fact.