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Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations) Order 2008

Volume 702: debated on Tuesday 10 June 2008

rose to move, That the draft Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations) Order 2008 laid before the House on 6 May be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Extradition Act 2003 streamlined and modernised the UK’s extradition relations with the rest of the world when it came into effect on 1 January 2004. Today, in an effort to further improve international co-operation, we are seeking to add the United Arab Emirates to the schedule of territories designated as extradition partners under Part 2 of the Act. We are concerned here with further secondary legislation required to amend the Extradition Act 2003 (Designation of Part 2 Territories) Order 2003. This instrument affects the UK’s extradition arrangements with the United Arab Emirates. The order reflects the fact that the UK and UAE signed a bilateral extradition treaty on 6 December 2006 and exchanged instruments of ratification on 3 March this year. Designation of the UAE as a category 2 territory will enable the advantages of this treaty to be given full effect in the UK.

The treaty between the UK and UAE signed by the then Home Secretary and the UAE Minister of Justice in December 2006 is one of a package of measures designed to increase co-operation between the law enforcement agencies of our two countries. Besides the extradition treaty, we have also concluded a treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters and a treaty on judicial co-operation on civil and commercial matters. The extradition treaty allows extradition to be requested for any offence that attracts a maximum penalty of at least 12 months’ imprisonment in both the UK and the UAE. The evidential requirements set out in the treaty mean that both the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates must provide a prima facie evidential case against any person whom they wish to extradite.

There are currently no formal extradition arrangements between our two countries outside a number of international conventions to which we are both parties, which deal with a limited number of specific offences concerning serious criminal conduct, such as terrorism or drug smuggling. The introduction of a formal basis for extradition for conduct covered by the bilateral extradition treaty will lead to a more efficient and effective process for extradition between our two countries. That is preferable to relying on the ad hoc provisions in domestic extradition law for the many serious offences, such as murder and rape, that do not fall under the international conventions that I have referred to. One of the advantages of the new arrangements is that we will improve our ability to achieve justice for British victims of serious crimes.

The extradition treaty between the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates will provide both Governments with a sound formal framework for future co-operation. The UAE is a key partner for the UK in work on financial crime and counterterrorism. We are clear that we will not allow criminals who evade our borders to escape justice and we are committed to assisting our international partners in doing the same. The order is necessary to ensure that the United Kingdom is able to comply with its obligations under the bilateral extradition treaty with the United Arab Emirates. That is what the order seeks to achieve and I hope that noble Lords will give it their full support. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 6 May be approved. 20th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that brief explanation of the order. Again, I have one or two questions. The order seems to me to extend the areas where the Extradition Act 2003 has bite. I ought to ask about the number of days—65—that are to be allowed for the designation. As I understand it, there are 60 days for the United Arab Emirates to provide the information required to enable the extradition warrant to be put into force, with five days allowed for that to be passed on to the judiciary and the appropriate judge. Is that similar to every other extradition treaty with other countries or is there something different about this, given that the number of days is being mentioned? I want to make sure that we are talking about like for like; I want to make sure that we are not just adding another country to the extradition procedures but that we are doing so on the same terms.

Presumably, the extradition facility will be available to the United Arab Emirates for and against British citizens, if that is required. What protection do British citizens have against that? Presumably, the appeal system will be the same, but will they have protection against the extradition warrant or, as with the other countries, will they not be able to resist it? I have nothing more to say about the order, but it would be helpful if the Minister could reply to those questions.

My Lords, we on these Benches support measures that deal with globalised crime. As the Minister pointed out, for countries that perhaps have particular attractions for criminals dealing with financial matters, it is important that the extradition treaty is concluded. I have a couple of concerns. The treaty allows the UK Government to extradite any of its citizens for a crime which is punishable by one year or more in prison, as the Minister said, as long as the request for the citizen is made by a competent court in the requesting country. First, how are we to judge a competent court? The US State Department's latest annual human rights report stipulates that the judiciary of the UAE is not fully independent. It states:

“The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in practice it was not independent, as decisions were subject to review by the political leadership”.

The report also states:

“Current law permits indefinite, routine, incommunicado detention without appeal”.

I have had a few cases brought to my attention. I will just quote one for the record. Amnesty has outlined a recent appeal from 30 May this year which relates to a Pakistan national, Rafat Usmani, who was arrested and detained on 28 May and says that he was tortured the same day. The authorities have denied holding him in custody, but there are concerns that he has been subjected to enforced disappearance. He lived and worked in the Emirate of Dubai for more than 12 years. Over the course of 2008, he had been in communication with the Office of the Auditors—a quasi-judicial body under the control of the ruler of Dubai, which deals with financial offences—in relation to financial irregularities that are alleged to have taken place at his former workplace. His representative in these procedures has been an American lawyer.

He was summoned to the Office of the Auditors on 28 May. He was told that the summons was for him to collect his passport and sign a number of forms in connection with the application to change his employment sponsorship. He went to the office with his wife’s brother and wife who are American citizens. One hour after their arrival the two women were told that they must leave—they had waited outside—but that Rafat Usmani must remain. They were told:

“We will teach you Americans a lesson”.

Later that day Rafat Usmani was brought home by a group of men. He was in a very emotional state and claimed that he had been tortured. At that point he was taken away and was therefore not able to provide further details. His family has since made extensive inquiries of the authorities, but they have denied having him in custody. He has medical conditions including high blood pressure. Naturally, his family are very concerned about him. I quote this case to illustrate that there are matters of arrest, detention and trial that need careful, case-by-case assessment. These matters are very serious and examination, if an extradition was to take place to the UAE, should take place against a background of the knowledge of the sort of thing that is alleged to have taken place there.

My Lords, I am grateful again to both noble Baronesses for their contributions to this short debate on this important matter. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked about the number of days. Part 2 of the Act provides for 45 days for the receipt of documents. It is certainly the case that some treaties require a longer period. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked whether we are satisfied that there are sufficient protections. We think that there are sufficient protections here and that the UAE is a competent judicial authority. It ought to be remembered that there are a number of safeguards which must be considered before extradition can be ordered. They relate to identity; extradition is barred if the judge is not satisfied that the person in front of them is the person sought. They also relate to dual criminality; extradition is barred if dual criminality is not established. There has to be competence there. Extradition is barred if prima facie evidence is not included; for example, evidence that would justify the person’s trial if the offences had been committed in the United Kingdom. It also has to be the case that no request can be made for improper reasons; extradition is specifically barred if the judge decides that the request has in fact been made to prosecute or punish the person on the ground of race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or political opinion.

Extradition can also be barred where it is felt that there has been an injustice due to ill health or the passage of time and/or where it would be oppressive due to the passage of time since the offence was committed, or due to that person’s physical or mental health.

I cannot speak with any knowledge of the issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, raised. I recognise that it is an important issue. I would not in any event want to comment on an individual case; it would be wrong and improper of me to do so. I take her point and will ensure that we properly review the position with regard to the case. I can do no more than that.

On that basis, I invite the House to support the order.

My Lords, I want to return to the question of appeal. I asked about the situation in which a request has been made for a British citizen to be extradited to the United Arab Emirates. If that decision is taken by a judge in this country, is there a right of appeal to a higher court?

My Lords, I think that there would be an appeal only if there was something wrong at law, but I will have to write to the noble Baroness about that to clarify the position.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at 8.51 pm.