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European Arrest Warrant and Investigation Order

Volume 724: debated on Wednesday 26 January 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government to what extent the European Arrest Warrant and European Investigation Order conform with the principle of habeas corpus.

The UK’s transposition of the European arrest warrant complies fully with the concept of habeas corpus. UK implementation of the European investigation order will also be fully compliant. However, I understand that the noble Lord’s principal concern is the separate issue of European arrest warrants being issued for trivial offences. The Government share this concern and are talking to other EU countries, bilaterally and through the European Union, to stop this happening.

I thank the Minister for her considered reply, but I am not as optimistic. The fact remains that hundreds of UK citizens are being compelled to appear before any EU court without the merit of the often frivolous charges being first assessed. They can be locked up without pre-trial. Is she not concerned that this totally overrides the ancient liberties of the British citizen enshrined in Magna Carta and habeas corpus? Will she assure the House that this will be resolved? Three member states of the EU have already declared the European arrest warrant unconstitutional. We should do the same. It really is time that we started to say no to damaging EU legislation.

My Lords, the Government are concerned, as I have just said, with the disproportionate use of the European arrest warrant for trivial purposes. That is one of the reasons why we have asked Sir Scott Baker, with the panel that he is heading on extradition, to look specifically at the operation of the European arrest warrant. He is able to take submissions from Members of this House and others and I hope that the noble Lord will take advantage of that.

My Lords, of course one must share the Minister’s concern about the civil liberties principles at stake, which sometimes are being breached, as the noble Lord said. On the other hand, will the Minister confirm that some serious criminals charged with terrorism or other equally serious offences have been brought back to Britain to face trial through the use of the European arrest warrant?

Indeed, my Lords, and I suspect that that is why our predecessors signed up to this measure when they were in office. It is the case that it has facilitated the return of prisoners to jurisdiction, so the noble Lord makes a perfectly valid point.

What exactly do the Government propose to do about this? The situation as it stands is obviously unjust and unsatisfactory. What will the Government do?

My Lords, I hope that I have just indicated what we are doing. We think that we need some expert advice, so we have asked Sir Scott Baker to look at the operation of the European arrest warrant. He is due to report in September of this year and the Government will take action in the light of his report.

Does not the Minister agree that habeas corpus is a process and not a principle? It is designed to make sure that a person who is in custody is there legally. If a European arrest warrant has been issued improperly, a writ of habeas corpus will succeed and, if not, it will fail. It is a simple issue and there is no conflict between the principles.

My Lords, in this House of legal eagles I hesitate, as a non-lawyer, to get on to the grounds, but I understand that the principle of habeas corpus is indeed a legal remedy against unlawful detention. It is therefore right to say that the European arrest warrant in principle is compliant. I accept entirely, however, that there is dissatisfaction with the warrant’s operation, which is what the Government have asked Sir Scott Baker to look into.

Can the Minister give some indication of how many people have been extradited from this country and to this country in recent years?

I think that I will have to write to the noble and learned Lord about that. There are figures but I do not entirely have them to hand. The numbers are not huge, but they are sufficiently significant, and we wish to know how well this remedy is operating.

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree that one of the prime duties of government is to protect the interests of the citizen, particularly when abroad. She will be aware that members of the British public have been extradited to other countries without the production of any prima facie evidence at all. Moreover, they often go to countries that do not have the same respect for law and individual interests as we do in this country. The Government were warned about this when the Bill was discussed in Grand Committee. It is a serious matter and I hope that the Government will understand the level of concern about it throughout the country.

My Lords, the point that the noble Lord makes about the Government having been warned at the time of the passage of the legislation is perhaps to be directed at the other Benches. We are concerned about the operation of the European arrest warrant, which is precisely why we believe that it needs to be looked into. I would add one point about the European supervision directive—I may not have the title quite right. There is a framework agreement on an arrangement that will come into operation whereby individuals who have been summoned for jurisdiction can nevertheless return to their country of origin during the period of bail and, if sentence is passed on them, can also serve that sentence there. Extra remedies are coming into operation to protect people’s rights.

My Lords, could my noble friend not take some advantage of the provision of European arrest warrants? We also have the problem of control orders. Perhaps she could get some friendly European country to take those who are currently subject to control orders and bang them up in a jail somewhere, without the need ever to bring them to trial. That would seem to be a most convenient solution.

My Lords, we will be discussing this topic shortly. All I would say is that, of course, control orders arise when there is insufficient admissible evidence to bring a successful prosecution.

My Lords, the Question refers to the European investigation order. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government are satisfied with the operation of that order and whether the demands placed on UK police forces as a result of such orders are proportionate?

My Lords, the European investigation order is, of course, not yet in operation; it is still being discussed. Its objective is to facilitate mutual legal assistance between sovereign legal systems. We are endeavouring in the negotiations on this to ensure that its operation, when it comes into effect, will be satisfactory from the point of view of the traditions and the standards of this country.