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Extradition: United States

Volume 699: debated on Wednesday 20 February 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will reconsider the extradition arrangements with the United States in the light of recent court judgments.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government are entirely satisfied with the current extradition arrangements between the United Kingdom and the United States. Recent court judgments have not persuaded us that a change is either necessary or desirable.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. If he is so satisfied with current arrangements, would he care to reflect on the case of Mr Lotfi Raissi, who was the subject of an extradition request from the United States concerning terrorism, was imprisoned in Belmarsh, was found by a British court to have no case to answer and, last week, was judged by the Court of Appeal to be entitled to apply for compensation for wrongful imprisonment? Is he aware that an official of the FBI has said that it applied for the extradition warrant for fishing purposes to see what it could find out about that person? Is it not an indictment of the Government’s arrangements, with which he is so satisfied, that a person who was found by a British court to have no case to answer, had he been arrested prior to 2003, would now be languishing in an American prison?

My Lords, I understand that my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice is studying the judgment on Mr Raissi’s application for compensation and considering what action to take in the light of it. It would be very unhelpful and unproductive to speculate—it would be speculation—that a US request on the same facts for Mr Raissi would have succeeded where the earlier one had failed. That is pure speculation and, as the matter is ongoing, I do not intend to comment further on it.

My Lords, in the absence of the Minister being able to respond to that question, does he not agree that it would make the extradition arrangements between the US and the UK more balanced if a judge were allowed to rule that if a significant part of the offence had been carried out in the United Kingdom, any trial should take place in this country and extradition be barred?

My Lords, it is worth saying that the US is a mature democracy; it has a system based on the Bill of Rights, which came from our Magna Carta; and it is one of many countries that this applies to. It would be bizarre—or should I say perverse?—if we did not demand a prima facie case for places such as Albania, Ukraine and other countries in Europe, but demanded it of the United States. On concurrency of jurisdiction, the Attorney-General has talked with her American counterpart about how that should be taken forward in British courts.

My Lords, to what extent does the American Bill of Rights extend to Guantanamo Bay and the people there?

My Lords, my confidence in the US judicial system has been reinforced by the fact that the US Supreme Court has ruled that foreign nationals detained in Guantanamo Bay without charge were entitled to bring legal actions in the US federal civilian courts challenging their captivity. I have been reassured by the US legal system.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that we on these Benches opposed the US-UK bilateral treaty at every stage on the grounds of its lack of reciprocity? Since then, we have had the case of Mr Alex Stone, a 34 year-old blind man who was extradited to the United States on the say-so of an American enforcement officer and held there in prison for six months for 23 hours a day in a cell, only for the charges to be dropped. Since the United States ratified the treaty in November 2006, how many US citizens have been extradited to this country on the say-so of a British policeman alone?

My Lords, I fear that I cannot give a precise answer to that. I will have to get back to the noble Lord in writing.

My Lords, I have been given the answer by the House. I go back to what I said: it would be perverse if we were demanding of the United States something that we did not demand of all the countries of the Council of Europe—countries such as Albania and Ukraine—and countries such as New Zealand and Australia and demanded more of the United States than we did of those countries. All our treaties in this context are bilateral, so that would be extraordinary.

My Lords, does my noble friend not think that we should demand from the United States the same as the United States demands from the United Kingdom? Does he not agree that this is one of those difficult issues where the Government may have proceeded in an unwise direction? Perhaps they should look at it again.

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot agree with my noble friend. Before the arrangements were changed they were definitely unbalanced in that we were demanding a prima facie case whereas all that was needed from us was probable cause. Therefore I do not think that the arrangements are unbalanced. I think that on the whole they are balanced. Fifty-two people have been extradited from this country since 2004—in four years, 52 people—and 17 people have been moved the other way.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there is a serious disparity that warrants the attention of Government? It is no use referring it to the Lord Chancellor, who is no longer a Lord Chancellor; it is a matter for Government. Will the Government attend to it?

My Lords, I believe that he is still the Lord Chancellor. There is balance, and I do not think that the arrangements are unbalanced. They fit in with bilateral agreements we have with about 100 countries.

My Lords, did my noble friend hear the reference by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, to a fishing expedition being the justification? Is that approach being adopted in other cases and how can we be assured that that is not the case?

My Lords, I am not aware that there was a fishing expedition. I can certainly look into that to see whether we feel that was the case, and I will come back in writing.